CHICAGO — Chicago Public Schools officials said Friday they would restore $15 million slashed from school budgets earlier this month in response to criticism that the cuts disproportionately hurt Latino and black students.
CPS' decision was prompted by a Sun-Times report earlier this week that revealed schools where the majority of students are Latino were hit by budget cuts twice as hard as schools where white students made up the largest single bloc.
In a statement, CPS officials said the decision to cut school's discretionary budgets was "an agonizing choice" made to prevent teachers from being laid off.
"While we cannot make this freeze equal in all schools, we want to be responsive to those concerns and mitigate the most disproportionate impacts,” CPS officials said.
Under the revised plan, CPS officials said they would cut $31 million from the CPS budget by freezing a portion of schools' discretionary funds, which can be used to purchase textbooks and technology as well as to pay for after-school programs, field trips and hourly staff.
No school will see a freeze of more than $300 per pupil, CPS officials said. In addition, schools can appeal the cuts to CPS officials if they would result in the loss of "the elimination of critical programming," officials said.
The cuts were designed to fill part of the deficit in the district's budget created when Gov. Bruce Rauner's vetoed $215 million in funds that Chicago Public Schools officials had been counting on.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool likened Rauner to President Donald Trump and accused him of attacking the "most vulnerable among us — largely poor and minority students — to score points in a political chess match."
CPS has filed suit against the state for picking up a greater share of the bill for teachers pensions in school districts outside Chicago — where the majority of students are white — than for Chicago's teachers, where the district is primarily made up of black and Latino students.
Illinois Education Secretary Beth Purvis said the Rauner administration was pleased with CPS officials' reversal of "their terrible decision."
"Now is the time for CEO Claypool to engage in a constructive process to pass a balanced budget with changes that would help schools across the state, including those in Chicago," Purvis said.
CPS will save another $5 million by canceling professional development events for its central office staff. Unless the state funds are restored, charter schools also will see their budgets slashed by $15 million by the end of the year, officials said.
Originally, charter schools would have seen their budgets slashed by $18 million.
Officials said they would release a breakdown of how each school's budget would be affected by the end of Friday.
CPS had counted on the $215 million vetoed by Rauner to pay employees' pensions when that bill comes due in the summer. CPS, which has a low credit rating, would be hard-pressed to borrow money, forcing officials to impose cuts at schools across the city.
The district now faces a deficit of $129 million, officials said.
"Ultimately, without a victory in our lawsuit against the State of Illinois for equal funding or without a deal in Springfield this spring, our choices to close this deficit only become more painful," officials said.
The fiscal crisis for CPS began in November, when Rauner blamed Illinois Senate President John Cullerton for torpedoing a compromise inked in June that allowed schools to open in September. Part of that deal promised Chicago schools an additional $215 million to help cover its pension obligations — in return for statewide "pension reform," a long-held goal of the governor.
In a message to legislators, Rauner said he would not sign a school funding bill because it would amount to a "bailout" for CPS.
Cullerton denied breaking the agreement and said he was willing to continue working on pension reform with the governor.
Rauner and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan have been locked in a bitter fight over the Illinois budget.
The governor wants lawmakers to adopt his agenda, which he says will spur business growth in Illinois as part of a budget agreement. Democrats have refused, and the impasse has lasted nearly two years.