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What Do Students Think About The CPS Budget? 'We're Screwed' (VIDEO)

By Ariel Cheung | May 31, 2016 8:01am | Updated on June 1, 2016 10:54am
 Fifth-grade students from Hamilton Elementary discuss the state budget crisis and how it impacts Chicago Public Schools.
Fifth-grade students from Hamilton Elementary discuss the state budget crisis and how it impacts Chicago Public Schools.
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DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung

LAKEVIEW — Students from Hamilton Elementary School remember exactly when they first felt the effects of budget cuts at Chicago Public Schools.

For some, it was losing their drama teacher just before spring break, when Hamilton had to shave $72,627 from its $2.1 million budget amid district-wide mid-year cuts. For others, it was the loss of their multicultural teacher — who was never replaced — three years ago.

"I personally haven't really been worried about it until now, and this is kind of different and new for me," said Jaime Herrera, 11. "It's a really sad and worrying time for me, and I think that it is for a lot more people than just me."

Fifth-grade students from Hamilton spoke with DNAinfo Chicago ahead of Tuesday's deadline for state legislature to pass a budget before it recesses for the summer.

"If they don't sort this out, we're screwed, pretty much," said Aiden Winter, 11.

From debating which politician was at fault for the impasse to their frustration with adults who "are acting like children," Chicago school kids say they want their voices heard.

"It's cool how parents and teachers say kids are the future, but if teachers are cut, we won't be able to help and better our future and the entire world," said Zakai Bishop, 11.

But Hamilton, a magnet cluster school in Lakeview with a focus on fine arts, is better off than many CPS schools, Tessa Sheridan pointed out.

"Hamilton is a very privileged school, but some other schools don't have the same privileges and resources," said Tessa, 11.

So while Hamilton risks losing its fine arts instructors and could double its class size, the students know it could be much worse.

"Other schools don't have fine arts, so they might have to take away five to 10 teachers in science, math, pre-K — whatever they have," Zakai said.

The students at Hamilton "are very insightful," said teacher Elizabeth Warwick. The school's culture emphasizes talking to students about community issues, and Warwick said she's found their curiosity encouraging.

"So many young kids are paying attention, and this is affecting their lives," Warwick said. "It makes me hopeful that our future will be better and maybe politicians in Springfield will pay attention and make some changes."

It's hard for the budget talks to not impact the children. The April 1 strike of Chicago teachers canceled classes at CPS, and the Chicago Teachers Union has laid blame on Gov. Bruce Rauner, mid-year cuts at CPS and pension fights during the ongoing contract negotiations.

The students have asked questions about the budget and talked through the issues with parents, teachers and each other.

Oliver Makela, 10, said he got home from school one day to find his mother crying.

"She says, 'With these CPS budget cuts, you might not go to Hamilton next year,'" Oliver said. "It makes me really sad, because I've been with Hamilton since pre-K."

And when your whole world centers around school, the threat of such drastic change can be a little scary.

"The feeling of just not having that many teachers in the school is just heartbreaking, because you've either known them for years and years or you just met them," said Ella Schultz, 11. "But you know there are so many more memories that could be made.

"Teachers aren't just your mentors, they don't just tell you stuff and you learn it. They are people you make relationships with," she said.

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