One-third of Chicago Public Schools are half full

One-third of Chicago Public Schools are half full

Smaller student population and worsening test scores continue despite more funding.

The past 10 years have left Chicago Public Schools with troublesome trends.

Enrollment has declined.

Test scores have dropped.

Even as the district got nearly $2 billion more, the declines continued.

Thousands of CPS students are set to return to school on Aug. 22. Some will return to nearly empty school buildings. The Chicago Teachers Union seems preoccupied with social agendas and striking to ensure its demands are met in contract negotiations rather than with meeting the district’s challenges.

As CPS faces continued enrollment and proficiency declines, CTU’s militant tactics and expensive contract demands have created additional stress on the district. Now, an amendment on the ballot in November seeks to cement CTU’s power in the state constitution to ensure its attempts to make extreme contract demands and control public policy in both the district and state can never be curbed by elected lawmakers.

Take a look at how CPS has fared under CTU’s influence in the past decade.

In the past decade of school years with full reporting on district data, CPS has lost about 63,500 students – or a nearly 16% drop.

In the most recent school year, CPS enrolled just over 330,000 students – marking an additional loss of 10,000 students since the previous year. About one-third of CPS’ traditional, non-charter schools are less than half full. Among those schools, the five most empty are at less than 10% capacity and at most 6% and 1% of their students are proficient in reading and math, respectively.

Yet despite the 10-year loss in student population, state and local funding for the district ballooned by nearly $2 billion during that 10-year period.

In the most recent fiscal year for the 2022-2023 school year, CPS state and local funding increased to over $7 billion, representing an over 55% increase since 2012.

This might be the lone positive trend in CPS – funding has continued to rise despite declining enrollment, offering the potential for CPS to spend more per pupil.

But that’s bad news for Illinois homeowners and renters who provide much of the funding for CPS budgets through state and local property taxes. These revenue sources remain relatively stable regardless of enrollment changes in the district.

Illinoisans suffer under the second-highest state and local property tax burden in the nation, and this tax revenue provides the main funding source for district schools.

But CPS has proved to be a bad steward of taxpayers’ money. District proficiency has steadily dwindled during the past decade despite more than a 40% increase in state and local funding.

This steady drop in CPS students’ proficiency rates is concerning. In 2020-2021, the last school year for which student test score data is available, only 21% of students in 3rd through 8th grade scored as proficient in reading and 16% in math. That’s 70% fewer students scoring at proficiency levels in reading, and nearly 80% fewer in math since the 2011-2012 school year.

Schools and students in the district are suffering, yet CTU seems to have hardly taken notice.

CTU has not shied from shuttering schools to strike over union leaders’ expensive demands, all while supporting moratoriums on public school closures, further perpetuating under-enrolled schools, many of which subject students to low-performing academic atmospheres. CTU also bargained a moratorium on charter school expansion into its past two contracts, further limiting options for students at under-enrolled and low-performing schools to exercise choice to find better educational opportunities outside of traditional neighborhood schools.

CTU has continually sought its own agenda in district decisions, regardless of the benefit to students. And the militant reign of the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, elected to CTU leadership in 2010, has produced 55% higher costs and a loss of nearly 80,000 students in the district. That’s what strong union influence over CPS has given district families.

As the school year gets underway in Chicago, parents and teachers need to ask themselves whether the district has prospered or suffered under union power – and what it would look like if such power were strengthened not just in Chicago schools but across the entire state.

If Amendment 1 passes in November, Illinois government union bosses would have the nation’s most extreme labor powers. Most state constitutions don’t even mention labor. And those that do tend to provide limits on union power.

Instead of limiting union power, Amendment 1 would limit the ability of lawmakers to govern. That would, in turn, take away taxpayers’ voice in state government. Taxpayers are already at risk of a guaranteed $2,100 property tax hike resulting from Amendment 1 handing government union bosses greater bargaining powers.

Illinoisans have a choice Nov. 8: more union power and control over public policy and school districts, or keep things as they are so the state, and Chicago Public Schools, has some hope of reform.

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