As CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, my primary focus remains the continued progress of our children. In the six months since I began leading CPS, my biggest takeaway has been the incredible resiliency of our students, their families, and our school communities. Because despite being trapped in a broken system, our children are thriving.
For the first time ever, more than half of Chicago’s students are testing at or above the national average in Reading and Math. Our attendance rates continue to climb, ACT scores and graduation rate are at an all-time high, and our drop-out rate has fallen to less than 8 percent, while by contrast, nearly 60 percent of CPS graduates are enrolling in college. In fact, the Class of 2015 received nearly $1 billion in scholarship offers – clear evidence that the pursuit of a college degree is becoming the norm and not the exception for the students of Chicago Public Schools.
These upward trends are not a fluke. They are the result of hard work by our students, their families, and the teachers and principals who are being forced to run their schools with one hand tied behind their backs. These educators deserve accolades and respect from their government, not a flawed proposal that would make their already challenging situation even worse.
Governor Rauner’s proposal is frankly a sideshow to the real issue: the need to fix a school funding system that is separate but unequal. Instead of providing CPS with equity, the Governor and Republican leaders want to preserve a school funding system that forces Chicago children to face systematic discrimination. CPS represents 20 percent of state enrollment but gets just 15 percent of state funding, even though 86 percent of our children live in poverty.
The missing 5 percent represents nearly $500 million, the exact amount of our budget gap. Our children’s futures are just as important as those in the suburbs and downstate, and I hope Governor Rauner takes constructive steps to treat them equally.”
In fact, while Republican leaders choreograph this distraction, CPS is taking steps to fix everything within our fiscal control. CPS and the CTU leadership are working feverishly to reach a deal that would cut costs while preventing midyear layoffs, the district is going to market with $875 million in bonds and we’re on the verge of even deeper cuts to the bureaucracy.
Instead of offering a reckless smokescreen that distracts from the real financial problems facing CPS, the Governor should pass a state budget that treats CPS students equally with the rest of the state.
Our District is moving in the right direction academically, and I am determined to find a financial solution that will allow us to build on that momentum. We will move forward with efforts to further streamline the CPS bureaucracy, and will continue working with the Chicago Teachers Union to reach a fair contract that meets the needs of our employees while protecting the investments that we know students need.
Despite the unfortunate events of today, I still believe that our elected officials have it in them to be responsible public servants. I know that if we stop the finger pointing and work together, we can create an equitable, long-term solution to the financial crisis that is plaguing CPS.
Our students want no more than their fair share of the state’s education funding. Let’s acknowledge as leaders that this has been denied them for years and begin working to rectify that inequity. Only then can we turn our attention to where it belongs – the futures being shaped each day inside Chicago’s classrooms.