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Access Living Releases Disability Rights Analysis of CPS 2020 Budget

 

August 26, 2019 | by Emma Olson

No budget to remedy special ed violations, accessibility improvement spending plan adheres to district standards that don’t address access to academic programs

 

Bridget Hayman

Director of Communications

bhayman@accessliving.org

(312) 640-2129

CHICAGO – Today Access Living published its annual review of the Chicago Public Schools budget for the FY2020 year, highlighting the district’s ongoing failure to adequately staff or fund federally mandated services despite past documented violations of federal law governing the education of special education students. 

Remarkably, the district has not budgeted for the specific corrective actions identified and ordered by the Illinois School Board of Education last spring following its investigation into service delay and denial by the district for special education students. The lack of budget allocation creates a budget scenario where stakeholders and affected students and families are unable to see meaningful change or evaluate the corrective actions.

“Without transparency, you can’t evaluate the success of any changes the district may be taking,” says Chris Yun, Access Living’s education policy analyst and lead author of the report. “The public inquiry found systemic denial and delay of services by CPS and unless the district appropriates adequate and substantial funding for corrective action, we have no way of knowing the changes are actually happening.”

Further, Access Living says the district’s plan of making only the first floor of schools accessible fails to really address the accessibility needs of students with mobility disabilities because the students will still not be able to attend those schools with first floor access only. For the first time in almost a decade, CPS has appropriated $10.5 million to ADA accessibility improvement. Although this is a step in the right direction, the district should prioritize making inaccessible or partially accessible schools fully accessible by installing elevators along with first floor accessibility features. The priority should be making a school fully accessible so a student with a mobility disability can access and enjoy the same academic programs as her peers without disabilities do. 

“Accessibility isn’t just physical access to the classroom space,” says Yun. “Accessibility is about students being able to participate in the whole of school life. CPS should spend that $10.5 million budget line to make schools with existing accessibility obstacles wholly accessible to all.”

In FY20, the special education budget reveals an increase of $83 million and an additional 537 special education positions from the FY19 budget, a continued and welcome trend from the last few years. However, the impact of the budget increase is limited because of the severe vacancies in CPS. After the ISBE investigation and support for reforms last spring, along with a new mayor and school board, Access Living and other advocates are hopeful the district will shift its focus from burying special education services in other budget easily misappropriated to ensuring all students who need the services are served.

Access Living’s offers six recommendations to the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education as it considers the budget proposal:

  1. Improve working conditions for special education teachers and staff to help fill vacancies. Teacher shortages are a national issue, but CPS’s is especially egregious due to poor working conditions.
  2. Establish a system to ensure delivery of IEP and 504 plan services, regardless of staff vacancies around a student. A district-wide tracking system would track missing services and staff.
  3. Limit reduction in special ed teacher and aide positions and retain existing staff. Underestimating the number of needed special ed teachers and aides needed at each school is a budgeting practice that leads to an increase in actual vacancies and needed services.
  4. Launch a specific recruiting program focused on recruiting new and retaining high quality special education teachers. Retaining positions at the school-level budget should be a priority, as these are often the first cut.
  5. Revise the FY20 budget to include specific, line item allocation for implementation of remedial services and compensation related to the state investigation that determined services had been denied or delayed. Stakeholders must be able to review the implementation of these services and compensation and without a line item appropriation, they can’t conduct that review.
  6. Prioritize complete school accessibility so students with mobility disabilities can enjoy the same programs as peers. When determining the list of schools for accessibility improvement, CPS should prioritize schools with existing accessibility needs.

“The FY20 CPS budget is issued at a historic time for public education in Chicago. Under new Mayor Lori Lightfoot, CPS is recognizing the critical need for equitable support for students from marginalized group. As the district focuses on racial equity, it is important to recognize CPS can’t achieve its goals without support for students with disabilities as well,” says Yun.