Chicago Board of Education letter to legislators urging more equitable school funding - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Chicago Board of Education letter to legislators urging more equitable school funding

The Chicago Board of Education recently sent members of Illinois' General Assembly a letter urging them to consider the dire funding needs of Chicago Public Schools as they set out to balance this year's budget. On behalf of the Board, Board President Michael Scott and CEO Arne Duncan encouraged legislators to prioritize General State Aid, the State program that guarantees minimum funding per student, and provide a fairer, more accurate measure for counting poor students in schools: both high priorities for the Network 21 coalition.

Dear Members of the Illinois General Assembly:

For decades, public school children in Chicago and Illinois have been shortchanged by a state that has failed to meet its fundamental responsibilities to fairly fund education. Today, with new leadership in Springfield, we have a historic opportunity to begin correcting the wrongs of the past and give our children the education they need and deserve.

In recent years, the Chicago public school system has made enormous progress in raising test scores, attendance, enrollment, and the graduation rate. Through better management, we have cut tens of millions in waste, and shifted hundreds of millions of dollars from administration to the classroom. We have invested more than $3.6 billion to expand and improve our schools – with 84 percent of the money coming from local taxpayers, and the remainder coming from Springfield and Washington.

Just last year, Illinois cut school funding by $170 million, which reduced funding to the Chicago Public Schools by $35 million, forcing even deeper cuts in non-classroom costs. Any further cuts will directly impact classroom programs.

While we all recognize that the State of Illinois is facing a major budget deficit, we implore you not to balance this budget on the backs of our schoolchildren. As you look to ways to meet your own fiscal challenges, please bear in mind ours:

General State Aid

The State School Funding Formula has already left Illinois 48 th in the nation with only a third of Chicago’s education budget coming from Illinois and the district overly reliant on property taxes. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, 80 percent of the school districts in the state are operating at a deficit. Elsewhere around the country schools are cutting days and increasing class size. Chicago must avoid these kinds of measures in order to continue improving classroom performance.

Poverty Count

A drop in the poverty count based on the 2000 census could cost us $17 million. On the other hand, changing the way poverty is counted so that it more accurately captures all those with real needs could earn us as much as $40 million more. Please consider the recommendations of the Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB), which suggests a fairer poverty count.


The state adequately funds every teacher’s pension except Chicago’s teachers. This is unfair. State funding for the Chicago Teacher Pension Fund (Fund) has dropped from 26.5 to 7 percent of what the state gives the downstate Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Actuarial projections suggest that CPS will have to start contributing $5 million to the Fund in FY 2005, and an additional $40 million each year thereafter. This is $40 million annually that could be invested into academic programs. We need the State to assume funding responsibility for the Chicago Teacher Pension Fund.

Rising Costs of Health Care

Health care costs for the Chicago Public Schools increased more than 30 percent in the past two years and will likely climb another 14 percent or $30 million next year. We expect to spend $250 million on health care benefits for our employees in Fiscal Year 2004 — $100 million over Fiscal Year 2000. This cost will grow even more if Illinois cuts Medicare and Medicaid.

School Infrastructure

Studies have shown that there is a dramatic danger to our children throughout Illinois because school buildings are in severe disrepair. Financial projections indicate that there is a $6 billion school infrastructure need in Illinois. Currently, the state has funded a $500 million school construction program through FY 2003. We urge you to at least continue funding at this level in FY 2004 and the years beyond. This program provides the Chicago Public Schools $100 million annually in capital funding.

Teacher Salaries/Union Negotiations

Seniority-based salary increases alone will cost CPS $20 million more next year, and we begin contract negotiations with the Chicago Teachers Union this spring in which we anticipate a rise in labor costs for all 27,000 teachers.

State/Federal Mandates

Mandated categorical programs, including special education, bilingual, and transportation, as well as unfunded federal mandates under No Child Left Behind further exacerbate what already appears to be a critical shortfall for the Chicago Public Schools.

All told, we conservatively estimate that we will need at least $250 million more next year just to meet our continuing obligations and advance school reform. To correct the imbalances of the past and begin to offer the schoolchildren of Chicago a truly first-class education without overburdening the taxpayers of Chicago, we really need significantly more, but we understand that in the current climate this is not realistic. Nevertheless, we ask that, as you develop your budget, please give Chicago schoolchildren every consideration possible.


Michael W. Scott, Board President

Arne Duncan, Chief Executive Officer

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