Director of Communications
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:
“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.