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Chicago teachers to descend on Springfield asking for more taxpayer money

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(The Center Square) – The Chicago Teachers Union is urging members to use a “release day” to leave their students and lobby lawmakers in Springfield for more taxpayer funding.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson was in Springfield last week lobbying. Hal Woods, chief of policy at Kids First Chicago, said teachers showing up is Johnson’s and CTU’s way of showing the district is strong despite declining enrollment.

“I’m sure, as the mayor is asking for additional funds for [Chicago Public Schools], he’s trying to project stability at the district. You could see the question. ‘Hey, why should CPS be getting more money when they’re losing enrollment?’ When he says enrollment has stabilized, it’s accurate in the sense that it has stabilized this year but I think it is unclear if that’s going to be the case moving forward,” Woods told The Center Square.

According to an internal email, the union said, “If we’re going to get what we need, we must push for it.”

“We need you to come to Springfield with us next Wednesday, May 15, to advocate for more school funding,” the email said.

Chicago Public Schools leaders confirmed they are giving more than 600 teachers and staff members a paid day off to lobby.

CTU is currently being sued over its 2022 COVID-19 strike, where union members refused to show up to school. Parents are seeking damages for unexpected child care costs.

Stacy Davis Gates, the CTU president, said in a blog they had a sign-up sheet for teachers to ride the bus to Springfield, that this is not a request for new money.

“It is to hold lawmakers accountable for the full funding that the Illinois General Assembly and [Gov. J.B. Pritzker] have already committed to our students and communities,” Davis Gates said.

Woods says the government is obligated to fully fund CPS, which he claims is currently underfunded by over $1 billion.

“What Mayor Johnson is saying is that CPS is kind of owed this $1 billion because the state essentially looks at the needs of CPS, through evidence-based funding, and then look at what CPS is actually receiving in revenue, from the state and locally, and they’re seeing that the gap is about $1.1 billion,” Woods said. “When the state approved the formula, they made a commitment to fully fund all school districts by 2027. If the state keeps on funding at the minimum number every year, it’s going to take until about 2035.”

CPS budgets have increased by 55% while student enrollment has decreased by 21% from fiscal years 2010 to 2023, according to Illinois Policy Institute.

Kristin Pollock, Kids First Chicago chief of Development and External Affairs, said their non-profit is in support of the state fully funding CPS’s K-12 schools.

“The district has never been adequately funded to meet the students’ needs here in Chicago,” Pollock said. “We agree with the state increasing its K-12 funding to Chicago Public Schools.”

Over the past six years, CPS has received about $2.8 billion in federal COVID relief funding. State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, pointed out that new programs were created with this funding. With the funding going away, there’s no additional revenue coming in to sustain them.

“Now who would’ve thought that we were taking federal funds and creating programs that are going to be going in perpetuity that the state was going to have to finally pick up one of these days,” Wilhour said at a news conference last week.

CPS launched a new program called TutorCorps. The district used federal pandemic relief taxpayer funds to hire and train 850 tutors to help kids catch up on math and reading skills. As of 2023, about three-quarters of Chicago Public Schools students cannot read at grade level. Nearly 83% did not meet proficiency in math.

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