Schools won’t lose money if enrollment drops

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CPS announced today that schools whose enrollment is lower than originally projected will get to keep all the money in their budgets, rather than having to make cuts if fewer students showed up.

Schools that have additional students show up will still get more money, based on enrollment figures from the 20th day of school, which means the district will wind up spending more than budgeted for schools. District officials estimate the additional cost will be less than $20 million and have identified a way to pay for it. On Tuesday, additional details will be released, as will enrollment by school.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll says that CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made the decision in order “to make this year one of transition for those [schools] that have fewer students than originally projected.”

The move marks the first time that CPS has chosen not to penalize schools where fewer students show up than expected, a significant shift in a district that for years has been challenged by attendance problems in the first weeks of school. 

Previously, CPS had said it would make these adjustments based on 10th-day enrollment rather than on 20th-day figures.

In an interview with WBEZ, Byrd-Bennett said that overall enrollment numbers are “not what we anticipated.” But she also said that many of the projection changes are because “we were off on where children landed.”

The closings of dozens of schools made it more likely that projections might be off, especially if parents sent their children to schools other than the designated welcoming schools.

This is the first year that the 20th-day staffing adjustments will be made under the new per-pupil budget formula, instead of on the previous system of position quotas. CPS says that per-pupil budgeting allows principals to customize budgets and distributes money more equitably, although charter schools have criticized the budgeting system.

Without this change, Byrd-Bennett said, principals would have had to make even more changes to their school budgets. Indeed, one principal who asked that his name not be used said that all schools in his network were required to submit a variety of contingency plans for potential 20th-day budget cuts.

Budget critic Kate Bolduc, co-founder of the Common Sense Coalition of LSCs for Fair Funding, says that keeping money stable this year is a good thing – but notes the district may still return to its typical 20th-day cuts next fall, creating more instability.

“It shouldn’t distract us from the reality that schools opened four weeks ago, underfunded, with larger class sizes and without essential fine arts programming,” Bolduc says. “The mayor and the city’s budget office can do something about it. They can examine every TIF [tax increment financing] district for surplus funds that could be returned to classrooms, where they belong.”

Bolduc says a survey by her organization found that 63 percent of schools had class sizes that exceeded teachers’ contract guidelines – some as high as 40 students per class.

“There is not a problem with per-pupil funding, if there is enough funding per pupil,” she says. 

Contributing: Sarah Karp, Linda Lutton/WBEZ