Funding Equity in Chicago Public Schools

Each year, Springfield distributes State funds from its education budget to the local school districts of Illinois. Once those dollars reach the local school district level, the school board considers the amount of state funding it has received and its local revenue resources when setting its district budget and deciding how much to allocate to the schools within the district.

School districts, for the most part, set their own budget methods when deciding how to invest in their schools, and this can be a major source of inequity. If all Illinois students are going to have a fair chance to succeed, it is important that state dollars continue to be distributed equitably to school districts AND that districts distribute funds equitably to their schools. In another important step toward equity, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) included a requirement that school districts report school-level (or “site-based”) expenditures. This requirement will provide an unprecedented amount of transparency into the degree of equity that exists within school districts as more data become available.

By far, the biggest school district in Illinois is Chicago Public Schools (CPS). It serves ten times as many students as the state’s second-biggest school district, District 46 in Elgin. Hence, achieving equity in funding within CPS will go a long way in helping ensure all Illinois students receive a high quality, relevant education.

CPS has been working on a comprehensive student-based budget approach for several years now. Student-based budgeting means funding for a school is largely based on student enrollment and demographics. For instance, schools with high levels of students in special education programs will receive extra funding to support those services.

School-based budgeting at CPS is not as easy as you might think. Every year, the district refines its model, and with the district funded at just 63% of what it needs from state government for full funding, there remains programs and supports that all of us wish could be provided. CPS also supplements school budgets with “equity grants,” which directs additional funding to schools with low and declining enrollment so they can continue to provide the same level of services to their students. Even with this supplemental support, most years, complications arise in an attempt to reach the right balance between equitably funding schools and maintaining stability in the face of enrollment and staffing changes.

CPS’s budget picture is further complicated by its pension obligations. For years, state government paid for the pension costs of every school district in the state except CPS. This situation was partially addressed in the 2017 school funding law, but past pension debt still demands a significant portion of CPS’s budget.

Several other factors also play into the quest for equitable funding within CPS. Steep enrollment declines in some schools prompted the district to use, for the first time in FY19, a Small Schools Fund so these schools can better plan their programming. Teachers’ salaries are set by a district-wide schedule, but actual salaries are not accounted for in the Student-Based Budget allocation. If more experienced, higher-paid teachers work at one school at a higher rate, the Student-Based Budget numbers won’t reflect that cost difference.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, the School Board of CPS, and CPS CEO Janice Jackson have expressed their commitment to equity. Stand for Children will be keeping a close eye as the new state law reveals school-level expenditures by CPS and other school districts, and we will be standing with our members for equitable funding.

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