For the Record: CPS budget favors special programs, charters

July 13, 2012

If a budget is a document that shows an organization’s priorities and direction, the CPS budget released last week reveals in stark black-and-white the undercurrent of much of the discussion so far: District officials are directing resources—and students—to magnet, specialty, selective and charter schools. An interactive map (below) created by WBEZ/Chicago Public Media and Catalyst Chicago showsthe school-level impact of the budget.

The number of teacher positions allocated to schools for magnet, selective enrollment and other programs increased by 615. The number of regular classroom teachers, allocated based on student enrollment, decreased by 515 positions.  

Some of the increase is due to a smattering of new special programs at former neighborhood schools, such as Chicago Vocational, which now will have a focus on science and technology, and South Shore High School, which will become a selective school.

In line with the district’s charter compact, charter schools are in line to get more money:  87 percent of charters will get more per-pupil funding, compared to just 30 percent of traditional public schools.At the same time, thousands more students are projected to enroll in charter schools, with the latest projections putting the number at 6,500 new students, substantially more than the 4,665 that district officials previously estimated.

The enrollment surge means that next year, 13 percent of all CPS students will be in charter schools.

CPS officials have touted the move to target more money to charters as an increased investment in “quality options.” However, teachers who attended budget hearings this week sharply criticized the decision, pointing out that not all charter schools are high-performing.

View Mapping
the CPS Budget - "choice" schools
in a full screen map

 

View Mapping
the CPS Budget - "traditional" schools
in a full screen map

At traditional schools, some of the loss in teacher positions was balanced by the fact that principals were given about $130 million more to spend in discretionary money. But even so, sometimes the gains were wiped out: Some schools got additional discretionary dollars, but lost money in other areas and ended up with a net loss.

CPS officials said principals are planning to hire 276 teachers with the discretionary money, 60 percent of whom will be regular classroom teachers in reading, math, science and other subjects. Another 54 will be art or music teachers and another 13 are gym teachers. The rest of the positions were spread among bilingual teachers, special education teachers, assistant principals and counselors.

Neighborhood schools that are losing students faced more pressure to use the money to fill gaps, and were the most likely to hire teachers to make up for losing board-funded positions, the analysis shows.

One principal whose school experienced a small decline in enrollment was surprised to see that the published budget information showed her school as having more positions. “If you look at my core allocation, that is not true,” says the principal, who didn’t want to be identified. However, she used $250,000 of her discretionary money to hire teachers, in part to help manage the new CPS requirement that all elementary students get a 20-minute recess.

The principal, whose Southwest Side school has more than 1,200 students, says she didn’t feel comfortable having parents or college students responsible for playground duty. She wanted to have her classroom teachers oversee recess, and they agreed, as long as they got paid.

“What if a child falls down and hits their head? A parent is not liable for that,” she says. But CPS officials said no to her solution, so she hired additional art, music and gym teachers who were also willing to monitor recess. Spending so much money on teachers left her little to spend on extras such as supplies, textbooks and technology.

Other schools used their discretionary money to buy equipment or technology to bolster programs.  Spencer Technology Academy, for example, plans to create a virtual gym, buying Nintendo Wiis and X-Boxes so students can play sports that might not be available in their Austin neighborhood, such as tennis, bowling and baseball. The principal at Von Linne on the North Side decided to buy a kiln, among other things, according to CPS.

Other details from an analysis by Catalyst Chicago and WBEZ/Chicago Public Media:

  • Schools on the South and West sides were hit the hardest by budget cuts. Schools in those areas are the most likely to have declining student enrollment and thus lose teaching positions.
  • Traditional neighborhood schools and non-selective magnet schools lost a total of $117.5 million and 172 positions. Neighborhood high schools were the hardest hit, because of low enrollment projections and other program cuts.
  • 136 schools lost money overall, but ended up with more staff as a result of the decision to shift money into the discretionary pot. Principals gain flexibility, but have said they feel hamstrung to rehire teachers and keep programs intact. In turn, teachers say principals are pushed to hire less-experienced staff because they earn less.
  • 128 traditional schools saw increases in both overall budget and staff.
  • Traditional CPS schools will lose 296 positions and $121 million in this budget.
  • The district's 11 selective enrollment high schools will lose $1.8 million but have 52 more positions, in part because CPS is transforming South Shore International High School to a selective school.