Take 5: Financial watch, Kennedy-King award, parent program

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Eight days of cash on hand. That’s how CPS ended Fiscal Year 2014, according to a state financial report presented at Wednesday’s Illinois State Board of Education meeting.

“The gold standard, what we’d like to see, is 180 days’,” says Robert Wolfe, ISBE’s chief financial officer.

Chicago Public Schools’ sad state of financial affairs have placed it into ISBE’s lowest watch status. A year earlier — in which CPS ended the fiscal year with 82 days of cash on hand —  the district was in “early warning” status.

The report shows that CPS spends nearly $1.10 for every $1 in revenue it receives. At this rate of deficit spending, and without additional revenue, CPS will have a negative ending fund balance of nearly $52 million.

In its own comments to the state, CPS officials blamed pension payments  that grew from $200 million in FY 13 to $600 million in FY14 and $700 million now in FY15.

2. On a more positive note …. More CPS high schools can now offer International Baccalaureate diplomas, proof that their IB classes have met IB’s standards for quality teaching. The seven new schools are Back of the Yards, Clemente, Juarez, Farragut, Kennedy, Schurz and Bronzeville. Mayor Rahm Emanuel spearheaded a big expansion of IB schools and programs following a study that found students from these programs were 40 percent more likely to attend college.

Still, only a small number of students are part of the rigorous full-fledged diploma program: 3,300 out of about 15,000 students in IB schools, according to a CPS press release. Most of the other students are pre-IB or in a career education program developed in recent years by IB.

Though these schools can offer a diploma, it is very difficult to get one. Students must pass an IB exam, and only 3 percent of the 700 students who took the test last year passed.

3. Kudos for City Colleges…. The Kennedy-King campus of City Colleges has earned a cool $100,000 as a “Rising Star” in the  2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The prize, which is awarded every two years, recognizes high achievement in community college performance. The Englewood campus was recognized for its work on certificate and degree completion, including tripling its graduation rates in a five-year period. Federal data show Kennedy-King’s three-year graduation rate is 26 percent, the highest of the seven City Colleges. Its transfer rate is 21 percent, the lowest of the seven campuses.

“Graduation rates at Kennedy-King College have improved at rates rarely achieved anywhere in the community college sector,” said Joshua Wyner, of the Aspen Institute. “Kennedy-King is not just granting more degrees than ever, it is providing hope in a community that is one of Chicago’s poorest.”

Aspen and city officials credited the City Colleges so-called “reinvention,” a project started in 2010 by Chancellor Cheryl Hyman to improve the colleges, better align its programs with jobs, and make it easier for students to transfer to four-year colleges. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has also been heavily promoting the City Colleges as a viable option and last fall announced that CPS students that graduate with a 3.0 GPA and don’t need to take remedial coursework can attend City Colleges for free. Check out our story on the program in our winter issue.

4. State threatens parent program—Gov. Bruce Rauner’s threat to “zero out” funding for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association’s parent mentor program brought attention to the group as it celebrated its 20th anniversary.  The program trains parents to become volunteers in their children’s classrooms, and participants who log more than 100 hours of work qualify for stipends. Led by local community organizations, the program began in 1995 at Funston Elementary School with a group of Spanish-speaking mothers, according to the Sun-Times. It has since grown to more than 600 parents at 70 schools and has been replicated in schools in Michigan, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Colorado.

As part of his planned $248 million in cuts to Human Services, the governor would cut off the $1.5 million allocated to Parent Mentors every year, according to WBEZ. With state legislators present at the Logan Square celebration, the event quickly evolved into a political rally. “The benefits in this program are not just in the individual classroom where you work,” said Rep. Will Guzzardi, whose Chicago district includes Logan Square. “The benefits extend into your homes. This is a program that builds neighborhoods and builds communities. We are not going to let this program lose one dime of funding in Springfield.”

4. Pipeline to prison …  Politico.com posted an interesting essay this week about how adolescent misbehavior — think: passing gas in class — is increasingly resulting in jail time and a “lifetime involvement with the criminal justice system” for America’s youngsters. Unsurprisingly, writes Jody Owens, an attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, the students most affected are disproportionately black, poor or those with learning disabilities.

The article focuses on a small community in Mississippi where police officers spent so much time shuttling students from school to jail that they referred to themselves as a “taxi service.” The U.S. Department of Justice has sued the school district, where 86 percent of the students are black, over the shocking incarceration rates.

Owens writes that the trend of stationing local police officers at schools to monitor hallways has helped confuse student misbehavior with criminality. She delves into the complicated legal maze that adolescents and their parents have to navigate — often without much help from public defenders — and some of the problems associated with locking adolescents up alongside adults offenders. Catalyst wrote about arrests in CPS high schools last summer and found that Chicago schools are quicker to call in police to handle student misbehavior and conflict than other large districts, including New York and Los Angeles.

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