Mayor Brandon Johnson Uses Springfield Trip to Boost His Case for $1 Billion Bump in CPS Funding

Mayor Brandon Johnson speaks to the news media at the state Capitol on May 8, 2024. (WTTW News)Mayor Brandon Johnson speaks to the news media at the state Capitol on May 8, 2024. (WTTW News)

Calling Chicago the state’s “economic engine,” Mayor Brandon Johnson on Wednesday traveled to Springfield in an effort to rev up increased funding for the city.

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In meetings with state lawmakers and the governor, Johnson made his case for additional support for the city, including about $1.1 billion more in funding for Chicago Public Schools.

“We have to continue to make sure that the state of Illinois is doing right by the economic engine of the state of Illinois, which is the city of Chicago,” Johnson said of his trip. “It’s making sure that we’re building on relationships. But it’s also clear that in order for the state of Illinois to be the great state that it is, that the city of Chicago has to have its fair share of resources.”

The legislative leaders and governor all issued vague statements of appreciation for Johnson making the trip, with spokespeople for Pritzker and Senate President Don Harmon both characterizing their meetings as a “good conversation.” House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch said in a statement he was “happy to sit down with Mayor Johnson today to discuss some of his priorities for Chicago. As we head into these final weeks of session, it remains my priority to work together to help the city – and all of Illinois—thrive.”

Even so, while Johnson was at the capitol, a key Senate committee advanced a measure sponsored by Don Harmon that both Johnson and his closest political ally – the Chicago Teachers Union – viscerally oppose.

Johnson brushed off a question as to whether that was a “snub,” saying that “there’s a process, you know, that the General Assembly goes through. I understand that process, and we’re going to stick to that process.”

The mayor said he’s “had conversations” about amending the measure, which puts a years-long moratorium on all Chicago Public School closures.

The moratorium, which initially covered only selective enrollment schools before it was broadened to cover all CPS schools, was introduced by a Chicago lawmaker who fears actions by the Johnson-appointed Chicago Board of Education will weaken selective enrollment schools.

The legislation easily passed the House and has the support of Pritzker. The CTU, however, has called the measures “racist” because it will tie up funding that teachers want directed toward under-funded neighborhood schools attended by students of color.

“Look, here’s what we ultimately want: We want an equitable school district that speaks to the needs of the people of the city of Chicago. That’s what the people of Chicago elected me to do, it to speak on their behalf,” Johnson said.

As federal COVID-19 funding peters out, CPS is facing a nearly $400 million budget gap, not including any additional financial pressures that could come as the administration negotiates a new contract with the CTU.

One of Johnson’s top goals has been to increase how much money the state gives CPS, noting that it will take an additional $1 billion to bring CPS to adequacy as defined in a state education funding formula intended to bring equity to districts statewide.

“What the city of Chicago deserves, as a result of that piece of legislation, is something that I’m committed to pushing for,” Johnson said. “Look, there’s no secret here. If you want transformation in the state of Illinois, you have to pay for it. It’s just that simple. And you know, what the conservative estimate of what the city of Chicago deserves is $1.1 billion.”

A billion-dollar increase would be equivalent to roughly half of the more than $2.1 billion CPS is allocated in state general revenue funds this budget year, and is several times the $350 million boost that Pritzker proposes be divided among all Illinois school districts next year.

Johnson said he was “grateful” to lawmakers who were integral to establishing and supporting that funding formula, several times naming state Rep. Will Davis, D-Hazel Crest, who chairs the House education appropriations committee.

Davis said he did not talk with Johnson on Wednesday and wasn’t asked to be part of any meetings, and that he has not had any conversations with Johnson about school funding.

“If he has a particular ask for the city that’s fine,” Davis said, adding that he is focusing on a more realistic effort to increase school funding overall by $550 million. “That’s fine, I’m going to continue to do what I do, and work the way that I need to work to make sure that school funding continues to be equitable for everyone.”

Davis said he believes they can reach that $550 million figure as budget negotiations are escalating with the legislature scheduled to adjourn late this month. “And of course Chicago will benefit from those efforts,” he said.

Contact Amanda Vinicky: @AmandaVinicky[email protected]

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