Every year Access Living’s Education Policy Analyst, Rodney Estvan, reviews and presents an analysis of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Fiscal Year Budget. CPS currently has about 54,000 students with disabilities enrolled in its 680 traditional, charter, and contract schools. The total FY2011 budget for CPS, including for capital and debt payments, is about $6.4 billion.
Rod Estvan-testifing at Chicago Public Schools meeting in August of 2010
Background of Funding
The CPS, unlike all other school districts in Illinois, receives funding for special education using what is called a block grant. The Chicago Block Grant uses a methodology by which CPS is allocated funding for special education programs through block grants based on proportions that were calculated in 1995. The Block Grant funding formula was determined as part of the Corey H settlement Agreement and is legally protected by the settlement agreement.
Advocacy efforts by Access Living
Earlier this year, the CPS Board unanimously approved giving the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools the authority to increase class sizes to offset the projected budget deficit. Access Living spoke in opposition to this policy change, and the threat of larger class sizes, at the June 15, 2010 Board meeting. Access Living stated that increasing the average size of classrooms increased pressure on general education teachers, who often modify curriculum for students with disabilities in general education classrooms in order to improve the academic skills and outcomes of students with disabilities. Access Living expressed concern that this pressure could force some students with disabilities out of general education classrooms and into segregated educational settings, reversing positive trends the CPS has experienced over the last ten years. CPS informed the Sun Times that 2,700 teachers would be laid off as a result of the class size increase, which would create a savings of $125 million.
Thirteen days following the CPS Board’s approval of a resolution allowing for a dramatic increase in class sizes, the CEO of Public Schools rescinded all proposed class size increases for elementary schools and reduced the proposed class size increase for high school classroom from 35 down to 33.45. Access Living is happy that the board agreed not to change the class size for elementary schools, but is still concerned about the effects on high school students with increased class sizes.
In previous reviews of CPS budgets, Access Living urged the Chicago Board of Education to re-establish a budget or audit subcommittee. The CPS is one of the largest employers in Illinois and its fiscal issues are extremely complex, requiring budget or audit committee meetings that are subject to our state’s Open Meetings Act. The Board we believe needed to have a standing finance oversight or audit committee, just as publicly held corporations do. This year, CPS has finally agreed to re-establish a budget audit committee of the Board.
According to the FY 2011 CPS budget, a limited number of special education teaching positions have been eliminated, but there has been an increase in aid positions. The special education positions eliminated have been primarily outside of the classroom and citywide positions. Though the reduction is limited, because performance outcomes of students with disabilities have struggled to keep pace with outcomes of students in general education, even this limited reduction could have a negative impact on students with disabilities; one of the major issues is that the cuts create a lack of resources and experts available to assist special education teachers in the classroom.
Access Living has consistently expressed concern with the broad definition of “special education teachers” in schools. As a result, CPS has tightened its definition, attempting to conform with definitions established in the Special Education Personnel reimbursement program that is authorized in the School Code.
In response to the Chicago Public Schools FY 2011 Budget, Access Living offers the following recommendations:
● When developing the FY 2012 Budget, Access Living strongly recommends that CPS show great restraint in making budget deficit estimates early in the appropriations process. Making estimate after estimate based on evolving state funding estimates reduces the creditability of the CPS budget process.
● Access Living recommends that CPS pass a rule limiting the time frame for RtI (Response to Intervention) interventions for students suspected of having disabilities. Access Living recommends that CPS adopt a policy limiting the length of interventions to no more than 12 weeks if the school cannot demonstrate the student is making academic progress and move to a full case study evaluation for these students to determine if they have a disability as defined by federal and state law.
● The CPS Board should approve a property tax rate increase to the current cap. Even though the money realizable under the current tax cap is limited, in the current environment, every dollar counts.
● Access Living supports the Board’s proposal to utilize all reserve funds in order to limit any additional layoffs or class size increases. Access Living recognizes that if the State is not able to keep payments flowing to CPS during FY 2011, CPS will be required to make mid-year budget adjustments including possible program changes with associated layoffs. Access Living strongly recommends that CPS not utilize any additional short term borrowing against any expected State payments.
● Access Living believes that the proposed cuts to citywide special education services are excessive. Some of the citywide service cuts will impact special education outcomes. Even though the FY 2011 Budget attempts to protect and increase special education support services in schools, these efforts can be undermined by the reductions in citywide services.
● Access Living applauds the creation of a Board of Education Finance and Audit Committee. Access Living strongly recommends that CPS model the Illinois State Board of Education Board’s budget process and its use of a subcommittee.
● Access Living urges CPS to aggressively lobby the Chicago City Council to retrieve excess funds currently in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) accounts. CPS should request fiscal impact studies on any new TIF districts that are proposed in the future and act in the best interests of CPS in relation to tax dollars lost from such proposed TIF districts.