Chicago Public Schools plans to spend nearly $10 billion next school year

·3 min read

Chicago Public Schools on Tuesday released its proposed $9.5 billion budget for the next school year, a spending plan that’s $200 million more than this year even though the district continues to experience enrollment declines.

The projected budget, which awaits approval from the Chicago Board of Education at its June 22 meeting, is bolstered by $730 million in federal coronavirus relief money. The district said Tuesday it has spent nearly 45% of the $2.8 billion allocated for pandemic recovery — funds that are set to expire in fall 2024.

“We’re investing these funds strategically, setting a new foundation for success to ensure schools have the resources and capacity to move every student forward,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez, who is overseeing his first CPS budget in the top job, said in a statement.

The financial blueprint covers July 1 through June 30, 2023. CPS officials already released proposed individual school budgets this spring that are helping determine staffing levels for the next school year. Though the district is touting an increase of 1,621 full-time positions for a total of 43,378 full-time workers for the next school year, some employees are expecting pink slips as early as Wednesday because of budget constraints at their school.

The Chicago Teachers Union aimed its criticism of the budget at Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who announced her reelection bid Tuesday.

“The mayor is launching her reelection bid by balancing the city budget on the backs of children who need more instead of less. The voters of Chicago need to understand that this budget is unacceptable and another example of failed leadership,” the CTU said in a statement.

“Chicago Public Schools students and families have dealt with two years of trauma from the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to the trauma many of them face from gun violence, discrimination, regressive fines and fees, and neglect of their communities. They’ve had enough of ‘tough.’ What they need is recovery, with compassionate, competent leadership that is leading that recovery — not cuts to their schools and classrooms,” the union said.

The union has long criticized the district for not spending more of the COVID-19 dollars. CPS says it has spent $1.26 billion, but it does not want to pay for positions it cannot afford when the coronavirus money expires. CPS says it has only 68% of what it needs in state and local resources to adequately fund its schools.

Last summer, the Chicago Board of Education approved a 2021-22 budget of $9.3 billion that was backed by $1.06 billion in federal COVID-19 money. At a budget presentation last month, CPS said it had spent $566 million of this money as of March.

Of the $730 million in COVID-19 money earmarked for the fall, the district says it plans to spend $100 million for early childhood programming; $50 million in equity grant support for 238 small, under-enrolled schools; $30 million for summer school programs; $25 million for tutors; and $4 million for the district’s remote-learning Virtual Academy, among other expenditures.

The $9.5 billion budget draft also includes $765 million for construction projects, an increase from $706.6 million this school year.

CPS is scheduled to host public budget hearings at its Loop headquarters from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Monday and from 6 to 7:30 p.m. June 15. The public, virtual hearings about the capital construction budget are set for noon to 2 p.m., June 15; 4 to 6 p.m., June 16; and 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. June 17.

CPS is the nation’s third-largest school district with about 330,000 students across more than 600 schools. The next school year is scheduled to begin Aug. 22.

tswartz@tribpub.com