At education summit, calls for more revenue for schools

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With no state aid headed to schools and the threat of more drastic budget cuts ahead, a diverse crowd of about 200 gathered over the weekend to discuss strategies for bringing additional revenue to schools.

Eleven aldermen and one state representative joined about 200 teachers, parents, activists and students at an education summit Saturday, calling for “progressive revenue solutions” for the financial crisis at Chicago Public Schools.

The event at the National Teachers Academy in the South Loop, was organized by the Chicago Teachers Union and co-sponsored by the Grassroots Educational Movement, Chicago Jobs with Justice, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 143, Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, and SEIU Local 73.

The “education summit” had been in the works for weeks, but ironically ended up being held a day after Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would have spent nearly $4 billion on education and social services. Rauner said the bill was “an unfunded, empty promise.”

At the summit, speakers talked about the impact of budget cuts that have already hit schools this year and threats by CPS leaders of even more draconian cuts next fall if no help arrives from a deadlocked Springfield.

Karina Martinez, a student at Curie High School, described a leaking gym roof and how students aren’t allowed to take textbooks home because there aren’t enough for everybody. She said her orchestra class has 42 students and when instruments break, they have to ask “rich people” to make donations to fix them.

Matt Luskin, an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union, called on city and district leaders to stop blaming gridlock in Springfield for all the problems and instead support local revenue solutions, such as the redirection of tax-increment financing (TIF) dollars to schools, a tax on financial transactions and suing banks involved in the district’s so-called “toxic swaps.” City Treasurer Kurt Summers has endorsed the plan of suing banks, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel has so far declined to follow the recommendation.

He also urged city leaders to support a progressive tax.

“There is not going to be a solution from Springfield that will make all our problems go away by September,” he said.

Several aldermen in attendance — including many who are not part of the City Council’s progressive caucus — said they were interested in learning more about the CTU’s proposal and working with summit participants on finding a solution.

Ald. James Cappelman, of the 46th Ward in Uptown, called it “frightening that we have principals leaving CPS.”

During a breakout session on sustainable community schools, Ald. Harry Osterman of the 48th Ward said the schools in his district are highly rated and attracting new families. But he said he’s worried about all schools and that “it’s a city issue.”

Other aldermen present included: Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward); John Arena (45th Ward); Pat Dowell (3rd Ward); Sophia King (4th Ward); Deb Mell (33rd Ward); Rick Munoz (22nd Ward); Chris Talliaferro (29th Ward); Nick Sposato (38th Ward); and George Cardenas (12th Ward), who showed up toward the end of the summit. Rep. Sonya Harper, a Democrat from the 6th District, which includes Englewood, also turned out. (See this Substance News story for more on what each elected official said.)

  • Rodney Estvan

    Litigation against the banks over swaps is certainly an interesting idea, but there should be little doubt it would be in the courts for several years. Whether the case would succeed is beyond my understanding. The idea of a tax on financial transactions that would go to CPS exceeds the taxing authority of CPS under the school code, it would have to be enacted by the City of Chicago under its home rule authority and passed back to CPS. We can all be assured that the Illinois General Assembly will not vote to expand the taxing authority of only CPS and there is little interest in expanding the taxing authority of school districts statewide currently from what I can see.

    There are several other obstacles to the financial transaction tax idea. First it would have to be very low, in order to simply not make it worth the effort of institutions such as the CME group to move out of the City and avoid the tax. Second, the City of Chicago has its own revenue problems including pension problems, so why would the City pass on to CPS this additional revenue from the financial transaction tax that it too needs? The same issue of course applies to the City using its home rule powers to increase property taxes and passing them on to CPS when the City itself needs this money.

    Ultimately the solution to CPS revenue problems may well have to involve property taxes now under the legal authority of CPS and going above the existing Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) cap. CPS has the legal ability to call a public referendum to ask for this, whether it would pass or not is yet another question all together. I do not believe Governor Rauner would sign any bill allowing CPS to exceed the cap without such a vote and if such a bill were to pass the General Assembly I doubt his veto of such a bill could be overridden at this time.

    I also doubt that the General Assembly will pass a public bankruptcy bill, one has been proposed and there are even Republicans very quietly opposed to it even though the Governor supports it, let alone the lenders who want their money.

    Where does all this lead us? I suspect if CPS cannot make payroll and fully shuts down somehow a highly compromised state k-12 bill will pass, and it likely will not have enough money in it to make CPS fully functional, but enough to keep the doors open. It would be nice if such a highly compromised bill would pass before CPS can’t make payroll, but right now I am not optimistic about that.

    Rod Estvan
    Education policy analyst for Access Living
    Registered lobbyist with the Illinois General Assembly

    • Northside

      How sad. I bet if you look at EVERY member of Illinois politics they ALL SAID they are education candidates. yet now they all have created a mess….so sad so sad. Mr Estavan you are an expert in Education policy. If you had a crystal ball…what would you say CPS will look like when they open the doors this Fall???

      • Concerned Parent

        Will CPS Open in the Fall?

        • CPS

          Haha….you have a point
          I was bring very optimistic haha.

          Who knows….

      • Rodney Estvan

        Optimistically between the TIF money that could be freed up, additional borrowing if that is possible, and any limited extra funding that could go to CPS from as state budget deal CPS could open. More than likely smaller elementary schools could end up with split classes, combining two grade levels in one room where possible. Its hard to believe the central bureaucracy can be cut more. Its also hard to believe some of the proposed school additions will be completed next year.

        If there is no K-12 budget deal and CPS just shuts down it is possible that there will be litigation against the State and CPS because the Illinois Constitution does state:

        “The State shall provide for an efficient system of high
        quality public educational institutions and services.
        Education in public schools through the secondary level shall
        be free. There may be such other free education as the
        General Assembly provides by law.
        The State has the primary responsibility for financing
        the system of public education.”

        The fact that the Constitution requires some type of funding for education, could be the basis for litigation. Just like most of the readers of Catalyst I am pretty depressed about the situation and disgusted by the anti-Chicago attacks in the General Assembly as if the children and parents were responsible for BBB’s corruption.

        Rod Estvan

        Education policy analyst for Access Living
        Registered lobbyist with the Illinois General Assembly

        • Concerned Parent

          We are responsible – we voted to Emmanuel.
          I’d be first in line though to sue the state on this mess.

  • Northside

    I know you should read the comment section after news Articles with a grain of salt. However, the opinion of so many people is that education is a “waste” of money and that teachers are “thugs”. It’s pretty sad that it has come to this in our country. We bailed out GM and some big brokerage houses. And lets face it…some of that Fed money went to the bonuses of some already well off executives. Now when it times to help out teachers and children, so many have turned their backs on us. I know that CPS teachers are well paid, but greedy thugs we are not. I don’t want to sound pessimistic but it seems like our country is not “paying back” what they go when they were children. People like Rauner, and Trump and the rest all benefited in one form or another from publicly funded education. Now they are unwilling to keep funding a new generation of students and teachers. What a mess….sa sad sad situation. And on top of it the Liberal end has made so many hoops, tests, and teacher evaluations that its almost impossible for a teacher to feel any hope. Especially in Chicago….I hope I am wrong…but this CRISIS is going to take a LONGGG time to correct itself…..