Community schools funding in question

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Organizations that run community schools–the programs that keep school doors open into the evening with classes for adults and activities for children–reportedly have been told by CPS that they will not receive district funding next year.

Sylvia Gonzalez, the community schools resource coordinator for McAuliffe School in Logan Square, says the loss will mean that students won’t have as much access to tutoring and a safe place to be after school. Like many community schools, hers opens at 7:15 a.m. and doesn’t close for 12 hours.

“A lot of our parents are both working and they don’t speak English well,” Gonzalez says. “They say to me, `I can’t help my child. I don’t understand.’ They turn to us.”

CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler says that the budget is not final, and would not confirm or deny whether organizations are receiving word about cuts. The budget must be approved at the August school board meeting.

Earlier this year, CPS officials announced that they would provide $130 million more to principals in discretionary funding, despite facing a significant budget deficit. This extra discretionary money was supposed to help principals implement the shift from a 5.45-hour to a 7-hour school day. 

Greg Hall, acting director of the Federation for Community Schools, says his understanding is that the money typically allocated to community schools was shifted into that discretionary pot. The Federation for Community School provides training and support for individuals and organizations involved in developing programs.

However, organizations only recently became aware that this money was not going to be dedicated to community schools and principals have already submitted their school-level budgets to CPS. On Tuesday, the Federation for Community Schools will hold a meeting for their members.

“We are trying to figure out what our response will be,” he says.

Hall notes that community schools have diverse funding sources. Some of them have grants from private foundations and others get 21st Century Learning Community Center grants, which is federal money distributed by the state. 21st Century Learning Community Center grants have also shrunk in recent years.

Resource coordinators are seen as the linch-pin of community schools, as it is their job to find outside programs and services and get them into the school. In addition to arts and tutoring, some resource coordinators have brought in mental health services and clinics.

Hall says the schools that paid for resource coordinators with the CPS funds will be the ones “scrambling the most.”

Three of five community schools run by Logan Square Neighborhood Association, including McAuliffe’s, will be severely hampered by the loss of funds, should they be finalized, says Lissette Moreno-Kuri, director of community learning centers for LSNA. The organization stands to lose $275,000.

Moreno-Kuri says the current funding pays for 16 programs run by a coordinator, two teachers and two aides. Because the information about the cuts is so new, staff have not decided what they will stop doing next year.

Programs at McAuliffe fill up even before they are advertised, says Gonzalez.

Rebecca Martinez, who runs the community schools programs for Enlace, says that the offerings at Farragut High School and Castellanos Middle School will be severely limited by these cuts. She notes that the students at these school are predominantly Latino or black, and poor.

“Farragut is the school that will fare the worst,” she says. “Students are struggling with school and we provide students [with programs] that support their academic and recreational development and leadership development, and also their access to postsecondary opportunities and resources. It’s really painful.”

Martinez notes that community schools were one of the darlings of former CEO Arne Duncan. In all, 150 schools in Chicago are community schools and the district is seen as having one of the strongest community schools program in the nation.

In fact, in Duncan’s confirmation hearing for U.S. education secretary, he told lawmakers that community schools were one of his passions.

“I think the more our schools become community centers, the better our schools can do,” he told them.

Hall says the new administration wants the outcomes that community schools have produced, but don’t yet understand what needs to be in place in order to make them happen.