Local School Council Members React to CPS Funding Changes

Chicago’s school funding model is changing.

Instead of basing school funding on student enrollment as the district has done for the past decade, Chicago Public Schools is now taking a needs-based approach.

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CPS CEO Pedro Martinez explained the reason for the change in an interview with WTTW News earlier this month.

Read More: Chicago Public Schools CEO Says District Underfunded, Needs More Money From State

“Very few districts actually use student-based budgeting because of the unintended consequences,” said Martinez. “We were one of the few districts in the country that was doing it. And especially when our schools were losing enrollment, it was having a significant affect, especially in our highest poverty areas.”

Uriah Muhammad, chair of the Local School Council at LaSalle Language Academy, a magnet school, said he understands that “change needed to happen.”

“With COVID money running out,” Muhammad said, “I knew there was gonna be something that needed to happen. I just didn’t know this was going to be their response.”

Muhammad said LaSalle is set to lose seven headcounts out of a staff of around 30, and he worries that the school’s principal now has to struggle with those losses.

Language programming will definitely be impacted by the changes, Muhammad said, and “we’ll have to get real creative and pretty much dip into our own pockets to fund a full program, which means that other resources are getting taken away.”

Hal Woods, chief of policy at Kids First Chicago, which works toward improving all Chicago schools, said that although CPS had been reducing its reliance on student-based budgeting in recent years, the transition completely away from that approach this year “was a bit of surprise.”

Communication from the district has also been lacking, according to Woods.

“There really was not a lot of engagement done by the district prior to making this change,” Woods said. “There wasn’t a lot of engagement with parents, much less educators, students or even really school principals about this dramatic change.”

But Woods said the move away from student-based budgeting was looking increasingly inevitable.

“Student-based budgeting just based solely on enrollment and not so much based on student need was a system that was running out of gas because you have so many schools now that have 300 students or less — I think about 140 schools at this point,” said Woods.

“What’s kind of problematic potentially is the way they’re funding the broader base increase by taking money away specifically from sites of enrollment in gifted and magnet schools,” Woods said. “Now that’s a perfectly fine thing for the district to do in partnership with its stakeholders, its parents, its families across the city — but it didn’t have that conversation.”

Abigail Vences, a Local School Council member at Mather High School where she has two children, said she learned about the changes to the funding formula by attending a CPS forum.

“We learned that this will be a one-time thing,” Vences said. “This is not a continuous process. This is just a one-time reset where they’re going to give the low-income schools a bit of a boost. I was saying to my principal, ‘Let’s use this money wisely because we’re never going to get it again.’”

Vences said she hopes Mather will use the extra money to boost the school in many areas.

“I know we have a lot of outdated things, supplies, technology, for sure,” Vences said. “We’re trying to make sure all the basic needs are met across the sports teams — they were missing so many things. … Hopefully this little boost will help us for a few years. We’ll definitely allocate a certain amount of money towards supplies, and I think a lot of the books are going to get updated as well.”

Maria Owens is vice-chair of the Local School Council at Emil G. Hirsch Metropolitan High School, which has suffered from declining enrollment and currently has a little over 100 students.

Owens hopes that additional resources will help stabilize enrollment and provide better services for the children currently attending Hirsch.

The goals for her are to improve the image of the school, increase enrollment, improve the cultural climate and bring equitable resources to the school.

“Our children should not have to travel two and a half hours one-way to get a quality education when you have an institution of learning in your own backyard,” Owens said.

But the school is struggling and needs help.

Owens said it is difficult to attract more students when they don’t have much to attract them. For example, there aren’t any sports teams because student enrollment is too low.

“The course offerings are definitely something to be improved,” said Owens. “I think that it’s just been neglected by CPS and unfortunately parent voices have not been as loud as we would like, but the students deserve a lot better than they unfortunately have been getting from the district.”

Owens is happy to see the move away from student-based budgeting, which she said “was just abysmal for a lot of our neighborhood schools.”

While she doesn’t know exactly how much additional funding Hirsch will get, Owens said she hopes it will mean a better experience for current students.

“I think it will impact us in that we will be able to service the students who are there currently,” Owens said. “I don’t know that it would be sufficient enough to get another body in the building. I don’t know that it would be enough to get all the resources to deal with parent engagement and recruitment that would be necessary to actually increase enrollment numbers — but certainly it’s a start.”

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