On November 1, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool penned an editorial in the Chicago Tribune asking for Springfield to step up and prioritize funding for education and to treat Chicago’s children fairly. Read the entire article below.
Without action in Springfield, CPS students can’t succeed
A student who entered Chicago Public Schools this fall joined a district with tremendous promise — where test scores and graduation rates are on the rise.
I’m excited for this student at the start of her educational journey. But today, I’m worried about what that journey — and her future — could look like. Misguided state policies have led CPS to the fiscal precipice, potentially forcing severe midyear budget cuts that would disrupt and impede our classroom progress.
Over the last five years, state funding for CPS has declined while state funding for other districts in Illinois, including contributions to the state teachers retirement system, has soared.
This discriminatory funding is at the core of the current CPS fiscal crisis, and it raises profound legal and moral questions.
While absorbing cuts in general state education funding, Chicago schools must also pull critical dollars from classrooms to sustain teacher pensions — a mandate Springfield puts on CPS and not on other districts. In the last two years alone, CPS has spent more than $1 billion on state-mandated pension payments, and will spend another $700 million to cover costs this year. No other district in Illinois must do this. The state covers the cost of their teacher pensions.
These funding policies discriminate against Chicago’s children — and have created decades of short-term fixes, a $1.1 billion deficit and the $480 million budget gap CPS must resolve by its second semester.
While Gov. Bruce Rauner has acknowledged this pension inequity and expressed a desire to mitigate it, CPS is held hostage to the current budget stalemate in Springfield.
The good news is there are solutions. As educators, taxpayers and elected officials, we all want the same thing — to provide children with the education they need to become our city’s next generation of leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs. If we combine those shared values with shared responsibility, we can chart a path for success.
Chicago taxpayers are already doing their part. Property taxes are raised to the limit again this year, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council have found new ways to support our schools with critical capital dollars. We are doing our part at Central Office, too, continuing to streamline and reduce the CPS bureaucracy.
But with such clear evidence that the largest impact can come from changes in Springfield, the time for our leaders to act is now. Springfield can put CPS back on a path toward stability and allow our district to focus on continued progress in the classroom.
If nothing is done, drastic cuts will be made in February to make sure our schools remain operational. There will be fewer teachers. There will be larger class sizes. And the educational gains that our principals, teachers and students have worked so hard for will be jeopardized.
Parents should not have to wonder each year if a program that is helping their child will be eliminated by budget cuts, and principals should not lose sleep over the thought of raising class sizes or laying off staff. And our retirees should not have to suffer anxiety over the state of their pensions — not after dedicating their professional lives to the children of Chicago.
We can create a system that treats all students, teachers and retirees fairly, and that does not ask any one group to sacrifice too much. In the coming months, we will continue to streamline inefficiencies and cut costs, but we’ll need our teachers to do their part, helping us settle on a fair contract that protects our classrooms, teacher jobs and the promises made to retirees.
First, though, we need immediate action from legislators in Springfield.
As parents, educators and taxpayers, we must push for reforms that are long overdue. We must insist on a solution that will finally prioritize education funding in Illinois, and we must refuse to accept a pension system that punishes children for living in the city of Chicago.
Chicago should not have to choose between the needs of our students, our teachers and our retirees. We have an obligation to protect all three, and I believe we can do it together — but not without immediate action from our state’s leaders in Springfield.
The clock is ticking, not just for legislators who have limited time to act, but for students who are doing their best to thrive within a broken system. Their chance for a great education is now, so there is no time to waste.
Forrest Claypool is CEO of Chicago Public Schools.