School funding slashed by $750 million in last four years

Correction: People’s World has received an updated statement from Center for Community Change. An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of the budget cuts from the Chicago Public Schools. The amount is $750 million. –Editors 

CHICAGO – Imagine your kindergartener in an 85-degree classroom because the air conditioning wasn’t working and the lunch food gets rolled into the classroom. Your child’s teacher, who has no assistant, stops what she is doing to make lunch for the students.

“I had never experienced that,” said 16th Ward Alderman Toni Foulkes who described a visit to a school in her ward during a media conference today at City Hall.

“The teacher had to stop educating to actually make the plates of the students. She was doing this all by herself. I felt so sorry for her. Sweat was running down her face. I wanted to help but she was working so hard she couldn’t even talk. This is what is happening in our schools,” Foulkes said.

Faced with $750 million in budget cuts over the last four years, Chicago Public School teachers, employees, parents, students, and community groups rallied in support of a funding package being introduced today in City Council. Five aldermen will put forward proposals that could increase CPS revenue by nearly $300 million through progressive tax measures. The small infusion of money could prevent a new round of layoffs and further deterioration of the quality of education.

Despite the obvious crisis facing the city’s schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has done nothing to stem the bleeding, refusing to push for any kind of progressive revenue system.

“It’s an absolute outrage,” said parent Chirag Mehta.

“It’s also an outrage,” Mehta said, that these new round of cuts come on the “heels of teachers, parents, students and principals to shake loose” tax money that has been held hostage in a state budget battle.

Illinois is entering its second year without a budget. In order to avoid total chaos, lawmakers passed and the governor signed a stopgap budget on June 30. The mayor was part of the lobbying effort in Springfield but stymied a measure for a progressive income tax.

“There is little doubt in my mind,” Mehta said, “that CPS is proposing these cuts, in part, to pressure teachers to accept a contract that slashes pay despite the impact those cuts would have on students. They are trying to pit teachers against parents. We must stand with teachers. Teachers’ compensation is not responsible for this budget.” Teachers have gone without a contract for more than a year. Negotiations are ongoing.

It’s an “abomination” to put budget cuts on the backs of our children and teachers, Mehta said.

Aldermen George Cardenas, Sue Sadlowski-Garza, Carlos Rosa, Roderick Sawyer and Matt O’Shea planned to introduce the ordinances to prevent further budget cuts, layoffs and reduction in services. Despite opposition from the mayor, the aldermen propose to redirect Tax Increment Finance surplus to CPS, generating an estimated $150 million, according to the press release. In addition, two taxes that target large corporations would be worth an estimated $129 million for CPS.

Responding to the news that another child under the age of 11 had been shot July 19, Chicago Teachers Union spokesperson Stacy Davis Gates said that the budget cuts means schools go without social workers, counselors and other specialized support staff needed to help children process the trauma of violence.

“With the loss of health care centers in the city,” Davis Gates said, “schools are often the first and last opportunity to receive services like that. Not just for those who have been shot but for those who come from families who have had violence occur in their neighborhood.”

Yesterday, a Cook County judge ruled that the Emanuel administration must turn over all emails requested under the Freedom of Information Act by the Chicago Tribune related to a no-bid CPS contract worth millions. Former CPS chief Barbara Byrd Bennett was forced to resign after a federal criminal investigation found she took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from the owners of the academy awarded the contract. She pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and was sentenced to 7 and 1/2 years in prison. This was only one of many scandals Emanuel has faced during his time as mayor. The mayor was implicated in a cover up of the video, showing a police officer shooting and killing Laquan McDonald 16 times. Emanuel has been ineffective in ending gun violence and outrageously high unemployment rates that plague the city’s predominantly African American communities.

Principals are among the ranks of CPS employees unhappy with Emanuel. In response to the news that the mayor thanked CPS principals for their work with a happy hour party, Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, blasted Emanuel for the cuts.

In a Facebook post he wrote, “His office takes hundreds of millions of dollars from their schools, steers it toward contracts for the wealthy, and then think they can buy back their allegiance with a few thousand dollars in drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Their clueless arrogance is mind-blowing.”

In an interview with the Sun Times, La Raviere sharply said, “Rahm wants to buy you a drink. Ask him if he can buy you an assistant principal and a special-education teacher instead.”

Photo: Flanked by teachers, city council members, parents and community members, Alderman Toni Foulkes tells the story of a visit to an elementary school in her ward during a July 20 press conference at City Hall.  |  Teresa Albano/PW


Teresa Albano
Teresa Albano

Teresa Albano was the first woman editor-in-chief of People’s World, 2003-2010, leading the transition from weekly print to daily online publishing and establishing PW’s social media presence. Albano has been a staff writer for People’s World covering political, labor and social justice issues for more than 25 years. She traveled throughout the U.S. and abroad, including India, Cuba, Angola, Italy, and to Paris to cover the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. An award-winning journalist, Albano has been honored for her writing by International Labor Communications Association, National Federation of Press Women and Illinois Woman Press Association.