RIVER NORTH — The head of Chicago Public Schools demanded fair and equal education funding from the state Tuesday in a luncheon speech to the City Club.
"It is a myth that Chicago gets more education funding," said CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool. Pointing to statistics showing that Chicago gets $3 for every $4 a suburban or downstate school gets from the state, he added, "We're saying treat us the same."
Adding, "the solution is simple math," Claypool pounded the basic theme that Chicago has 20 percent of the state's students and deserves 20 percent of the state's education funding, instead of the 15 percent it currently receives.
"That is not fair," he insisted. "Our students and teachers are being denied the funds they need and deserve."
Hitting a "broken school-funding formula" based on a "regressive" tax system, Claypool said the state had cut CPS funding over the last seven years, while increasing the budget allotments to other school districts.
He said if the state brought CPS in line with other school districts, that would give the district an extra $458 million — or almost the additional $480 million it has budgeted for the current school year, but not yet received from Springfield.
Without that, he added, "our schools will look very different next semester and next year. Class sizes will rise. Academic electives and extracurricular activities will disappear."
Claypool has already threatened 5,000 teacher layoffs midway through the school year if the state does not produce the extra budgeted funding.
Yet he kept the threats to a minimum Tuesday, saying that, with that additional funding, he could make pledges to teachers, students and parents.
"Our teachers deserve their pensions," he said, adding, "We will have to negotiate a fair teachers’ contract that protects jobs, pensions, and our kids."
Claypool said Mayor Rahm Emanuel "has pledged to help restore the old pension levy as the final piece of the puzzle to end a historic fiscal crisis and allow the district to focus on the academic future of our children."
Teachers have objected to a proposal that would end CPS paying 7 percent of the 9 percent set aside for personal pension payments, saying that amounts to a 7 percent pay cut, something Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has called "strike-worthy."
"The city's position all along has been that, if they get funding, they will spend it on the schools," said Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the union, after Claypool's speech. "I don't doubt any of those things."
Yet he was dubious about what he called "the bigger disconnect that we have right now with CPS and the city" about exactly what the Emanuel administration was lobbying for in Springfield.
"I think there's a little bit of bait-and-switch going on right now," Sharkey added. "It's very easy to point to Springfield and say Springfield has to fix this."
Sharkey suggested the mayor was willing to accept a budget bill that would end a block grant for CPS, but give the district another "pension holiday" suspending payments. Sharkey called that bill "a contraption" that would kick the can down the road on overdue pension payments, while ending the block grant, he added, would only increase uncertainty over state funding.
Sharkey suggested the Emanuel administration look to things it has control over, such as sweeping Tax Increment Finance district funds or suing banks for the "toxic loan swaps" that cost the school district hundreds of millions of dollars.
During his speech, Claypool also praised students who have sometimes marched out of class to protest funding cuts. "We're proud of our students that, on their own, have taken to the streets," he said, applauding their "civil and respectful" protests.
Yet the key, he insisted, was getting the state to pay its fair share. "All roads first lead through Springfield," Claypool said. "We need 20 percent for 20 percent."
Emanuel introduced Claypool at the City Club luncheon, praising his history of "transparency, accountability and results" in public service, most recently as head of the CTA. He too hammered the same themes to start, saying, "We can't allow the finances at CPS to undermine the hard work our teachers and our principals and our students are doing."
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