With a total operating budget of $5.98 billion, a $285 million increase over last year, the budget is a welcome shift from past years’ austerity budgets. The FY19 budget appear to recoup previous years’ cuts to special ed, but the fact remains that CPS is understaffed and underserved when it comes to special education needs and the additional 268 staffing proposed doesn’t come with a staffing plan taking into account the chronic shortage of special education teachers and paraprofessionals in Illinois or begin to address the systemic violations of special education law. CPS’s special education unit, Office of Diverse Learner Supports and Services (ODLSS), is budgeted for $824.5 million, an increase of $32 million from FY18.
The FY2019 budget makes no mention of the unprecedented public inquiry or ISBE’s recommendations. The district’s violations of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) were recently very publicly highlighted by a historic investigation by the Illinois State Board of Education. In May, the Illinois State Board of Education announced support for an independent monitor to supervise an overhaul of CPS’ special education service following an investigation that concluded CPS violated a broad swath of federal laws and regulations regarding special education services for students with disabilities.
“There seems to be a disconnect between the budget and what needs to occur to remedy the past neglect of students rights under IDEA,” said Chris Yun, Access Living Education Policy Analyst. “We have seen last minute budget increases to hire more teachers in the past that have never come to fruition. CPS needs to treat the special education violations like the crisis it is and seriously budget and plan for the execution of the recommendations advocates put forward. “
Earlier this month CPS CEO Janice Jackson announced the district is adding more than 250 new full-time social workers and special education positions to better provide students with “critical resources” needed at schools across the city. It isn’t yet clear where the $26 million “district investment” will come from. CPS has said the new funding will be used to hire 94 special education case managers and 160 social workers who will work inside district schools. Adding more positions to meet students’ needs is welcomed, however, staffing expansion, especially on this scale, is not an easy task and simply budgeting funds does not guarantee the goal of filling those positions with qualified staff.
Access Living’s offers seven recommendations to the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education as they consider the budget proposal:
1. Staffing. CPS should proactively recruit and fill the promised 268 special education positions by the beginning of SY19.
2. End student-based budgeting. CPS must stop student-based budgeting for special education teachers and assistants funded at principal discretion. Access Living strongly recommends the ISBE Monitor to investigate if CPS’s remaining SBB in special education services violates the IDEA.
3. Equity for students with disabilities: CPS should set up a protective procedure for students with disabilities as the district’s own corrective action for students’ rights.
4. Compensation for delayed or denied special education services. CPS should voluntarily establish and fund a minimum $10 million compensatory education fund for students to whom it delayed and denied special education services and the authority to manage the fund should be deferred to the ISBE/Monitor.
5. Transparency regarding special education budgeting. CPS should produce an analytical report on its special education program annually and make it publicly available.
6. Transparency regarding CPS debt. CPS should provide transparency to the public when it decides a massive amount of capital investment with anticipated borrowings like FY19. CPS should provide transparency to the public when it plans to add significantly more debt.
7. Prioritize ADA Implementation in its capital plan. As of 2018, 38 percent of CPS schools are still inaccessible and the district’s $1 billion Capital Plan has no proactive plan to improve accessibility.
“With a $1 billion capital budget, it is unconscionable that CPS has not included dedicating funding to make accessible some of the 38 percent of schools that remain totally inaccessible to students, teachers and family members who have disabilities,“ said Marca Bristo, President of Access Living.
Established in 1980, Access Living is a change agent committed to fostering an inclusive society that enables Chicagoans with disabilities to live fully–engaged and self–directed lives. Nationally recognized as a leading force in the disability advocacy community, Access Living challenges stereotypes, protects civil rights and champions social reform.