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Chicago Public Schools unveils $9.5 billion budget for upcoming school year

Students in the hallways at North-Grand High School in Chicago in 2019.

Chicago Public Schools unveiled a 2022-23 district budget Tuesday totaling $9.5 billion.

Stacey Rupolo / Chalkbeat

Chicago Public Schools unveiled a 2022-23 district budget Tuesday totaling $9.5 billion, up roughly $200 million, or about 2%, from this school year. 

Under its proposed plan, the district is gearing up to spend more on about 1,600 added teaching and other staff positions, expanded professional development, and facility projects — and on servicing its significant debt. Next year’s budget is the first for CEO Pedro Martinez, a one-time finance chief at the district, who inherited this school year’s spending plan when he took over at the helm last September.

Notably absent was any reference to former CEO Janice Jackson’s signature Moving Forward Together pandemic recovery initiative, which was supposed to be in its second year in 2022-23 — though the district will stick with some investments under that framework, such as an in-house tutoring program that was off to a slower-than-planned start this school year. The district, which owes some $8.6 billion, will spend $769 million on debt service payments, slightly more than last year.

Overall, $4.6 billion will go directly into school budgets, representing about 48% of the overall budget, a slightly larger portion compared with this school year. Amid declining student enrollment that accelerated during the pandemic, that campus funding adds up to an 8% increase per pupil. The district will spend $765 million for facilities, a roughly 14% increase over this year.

District officials said the focus will be on the academic and mental health recovery that remained elusive this year, as well as social and emotional learning and professional growth for educators. The district, which said it has spent about 45% of $2.8 billion in federal emergency COVID relief funds, is budgeting another $730 million of those dollars. 

Some of the money will buttress pre-pandemic initiatives and programs, such as a pre-kindergarten expansion, grants for schools dealing with steep enrollment declines, and the rollout of the district’s universal Skyline curriculum. 

“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,” Martinez said in a statement. 

The school board will vote on the budget at its June 22 meeting. District leaders set the stage for the budget unveiling at their meeting in May, when they spoke at length about what they described as a murky long-term financial outlook for the country’s third-largest district, with a historic infusion of federal COVID relief dollars only a temporary salve. 

Martinez and some school board members voiced frustration that the district does not have the ability to ask the city’s taxpayers to raise their taxes to chip in more for operating and facility expenses. 

This year’s $9.3 billion budget grew by about 10% from the previous year, thanks to roughly $1 billion federal COVID relief dollars. It featured more modest spending on facilities projects, a tab that had shrunk in recent years before this coming year’s proposed hike. 

The district first announced its campus budgets in April, drawing criticism because budgets would shrink on 40% of campuses amid significant pandemic-era enrollment losses, even though the district was allocating more dollars to schools overall. 

Critics including the district’s principal association, teachers union, and parent advocacy groups called for holding school budgets harmless for the third year in a row as the city’s schools make a plodding pandemic recovery. 

Through an annual process in which school leaders appeal the size of their budgets, the district has since restored about $24 million in funding, including $14 million for special education. The district also distributed professional development and other centrally budgeted dollars among campuses, boosting overall school budget amounts and shrinking the amount of the cuts to a total of $18.6 million, with about 23% of campuses now seeing lower budgets.

Principals, parents, and others are urging the district to step up spending its federal pandemic relief dollars to address pressing student academic and mental health needs. District leaders have pushed back in recent weeks, arguing that deploying the extra money gradually over three years will make for more sustainable expenses.

Next year’s investments with that funding include $100 million for early childhood programs, $72 million for centrally funded teaching positions, $45 million for professional development, and $30 million in summer school programming.

The district said next year’s budget includes 43,376 full-time employee positions, an increase of 1,620, including 524 teachers, 112 nurses, and 53 counselors, among others. The new educator positions include 100 additional art teachers as the district said it put a premium on expanding arts instruction along with reducing class sizes and boosting professional development. Special education funding is up $68 million. 

The budget will also pay for a new initiative to reengage 1,000 young people who have disconnected from school for a year or longer during the pandemic.

Officials noted the district remains funded at just 68% of what the state estimates would represent “adequate” funding — and vowed to continue pushing for more resources.

Last month, the Chicago Board of Education narrowly approved increasing a pension payment to a city employee pension fund from $100 million to $170 million. Member Elizabeth Todd-Breland, one of the no votes, argued the district needs every dollar it can steer toward student needs as it tries to bounce back from the pandemic.

In response to Tuesday’s budget update, the Chicago Teachers Union argued the mayor was balancing city hall’s budget on the backs of students.

“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,” the union said in a statement. “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 district will host public hearings on the budget ahead of the board vote, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. June 13 and from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. June 15 at its headquarters, at 42 W. Madison St. Hearings on the capital budgets will be held virtually at: noon June 15, 4 p.m. June 16, and 11:30 a.m. June 17.

Correction: This story was updated to reflect that $4.6 billion will go directly into school budgets. 

Mila Koumpilova is Chalkbeat Chicago’s senior reporter covering Chicago Public Schools. Contact Mila at mkoumpilova@chalkbeat.org.

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