CPS increased school budgets with a focus on special education — and more property taxes

Chicago is increasing funding for most public schools this coming fall with a special focus on special education—and with the help of its annual property tax increase.

Overall, school system spending will hold steady at $9.4 billion in the 2023-2024 school year, but more money will go directly to schools, according to figures released Tuesday.

Supported in part by a federal COVID-19 relief fund, Chicago Public Schools will spend approximately $220 million more in the 2023-2024 school year to hire teachers and other support staff as students continue their pandemic academic recovery. This budget represents funds that districts provide to school principals, who will decide which staff to hire the following school year.

CPS also issued its highest allowed property tax increase of 5%, or about $131 million, to help support its budget. Property taxes are the school system's biggest source of revenue with state funding still lacking at around $1.4 billion. But CPS-issued increases — a routine annual occurrence — often go undetected compared to city-level increases.

Most of the new money went to special education services, of which CPS plans to add another $126 million, giving about 85% of schools more special education funding. Officials said any special ed cuts were due to a shift in registration. Special ed services have been problematic at CPS for years — and the area's top district official resigned this week amid the department's latest rebuke.

About 90% of the 499 schools across the district received more in total for the next school year than just ended, ranging from an additional $1,075 to $3.9 million. The remaining 10% of schools faced a cut from $544 to $400,745 largely because of a significant loss of enrollment.

“This proposed budget is a step towards fulfilling CPS' commitment to provide resources to every school community so that our students are healthy, safe, active and on the path to long-term success,” Johnson said in a statement. “This investment in our children is not only an investment in a stronger future for them and their families, it is also essential to fulfilling Chicago's promise of being a world-class city.”

To avoid blowing up the overall $9.4 billion budget — which also includes pension payments, headquarters staff salaries, and expenses related to CPS' significant debt — officials presented plans for a reduced $155 million capital budget that would address the need for emergency facilities to get the school ready. fall. In recent years, capital plans were released later in the summer and detailed larger construction projects. Last year it was $765 million. Officials said they would present plans for more capital funding later this year.

While 25 schools faced cuts of at least $75,000, the increase in spending in most schools is good news compared to last year, when CPS faced protests over its allocation of funds. Mayor Brandon Johnson was an offical of the Chicago Teachers' Union at the time and had recently campaigned to put more funds into under-resourced neighborhood schools. He has little time to influence the budget process that started late last year, months before he was sworn in in May, but Johnson will be happy to stay out of trouble in his first major education announcement after teachers overwhelmingly supported his candidacy.

Johnson also vowed on the campaign trail that he would avoid raising property taxes that he claims are pushing the middle class out of Chicago. But districts were allowed to raise taxes at lower inflation or 5% – and again did just that. Inflation this year is calculated at 6.5%, so CPS will see a 5% — or $131 million — increase. That's in line with previous years – CPS has hiked property taxes every year in the past decade.

Johnson senior adviser Jason Lee described the new mayor as powerless to stop “tax-to-max” hikes.

“The mayor doesn't appoint a single person on the school board. This is not an appointed mayor,” Lee said. “Ultimately, there are budgeting processes that operate under different regimes with different assumptions. Now, it's the 9th inning. … This is the end of the budget process.

“This is not an act of the Johnson administration. … All we can do is wait for the elected school board and whatever intermediate boards we have.”

Enrollment remains a major challenge and makes schooling more expensive. The school system has had to grapple with a student population that has plummeted over the last two decades, dropping from more than 400,000 students to 322,000 this year.

CPS has for the last 10 years funded its schools on a per pupil basis — more students equal more money, and fewer children mean budget cuts. But counties have started moving away from that formula — called student-based budgeting — in recent years in an effort to stop hurting schools that have lost children to factors beyond their control, such as declining populations in their neighborhoods.

That shift continues in this new budget, in which 39% of funds are allocated through student-based budgeting, down from 46% last school year.

Instead, CPS adds money based on student needs and provides guaranteed funding for certain teaching and support positions. The county also gave money to most of the schools that lost students to soften the blow.

Similar to last year, CPS officials are prioritizing smaller class sizes, limited segregated classrooms, art classes, and support interventions to help children through pandemic trauma and learning loss. More money goes into hiring counselors, athletic directors, nurses, and social workers.

“We are grateful to be able to fund this priority—this foundation for what all schools should and should receive,” CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said in a statement.

CPS is hosting budget hearings from noon to 1:30 p.m. June 20, 6-7 pm June 21 and noon to 1:20 p.m. June 23. The Education Council is expected to vote on the budget at its June 28 meeting.