The Policy Shop: More money, more problems at Chicago Public Schools

The Policy Shop: More money, more problems at Chicago Public Schools

This edition of The Policy Shop comes to you from policy analyst Hannah Schmid.

Almost everyone in Illinois is back to school at this point – even Chicago Public Schools’ first day was earlier than their typical post-Labor Day start.

Speaking of CPS, many students will return to Chicago school buildings with mostly empty seats and few students meeting grade-level standards.

Let’s take a look at how the district is faring and what students can expect as they return to classrooms. Here’s a hint: poor proficiency, fewer students and increased spending.

More money. CPS is operating on larger and larger budgets each year, despite schooling fewer and fewer students and manifesting worsening proficiency. The operating budget for fiscal year 2024, which covers day-to-day expenses on staff, contracts and other regular costs for the upcoming 2023-2024 school year, is nearly $8.5 billion, according to CPS data.

A look at the budget during the past five school years and going into the upcoming 2023-2024 school year shows CPS’ trend in its operating budget increasing each year.

CPS stated its budgets have been boosted by $2.8 billion since fiscal year 2020 by federal pandemic funds. Those are coming to an end.

Fewer students, empty buildings. Only 180 Chicago public schools – or 35% – used their space efficiently in the 2022-2023 school year while 290 schools were underutilized, and 25 schools were overcrowded.

There were 322,106 students enrolled at the start of the 2022-2023 school year. That is a drop of more than 39,000 students during the past five school years, according to the enrollment data CPS filed on its 20th day of school.

Improficient. Districtwide, there were many schools where no students in some grades could read or perform math at grade level.

In 2022, there were 50 CPS schools in which no fourth-grade students scored at grade level in either reading or math. There were also 50 schools in which no fifth-grade students scored at grade level.

Room for improvement. As the new school year begins, leaders at Chicago Public Schools should address these critical issues of low proficiency, underutilized buildings and more. It is necessary to better allocate financial resources so students can thrive.

The Chicago School Board leaders should be looking to address facility utilization. They should prioritize coming up with better district staffing models and resource allocation to make better use of the buildings that sit empty. They should make these moves to allow educators and school staff to prioritize student learning.

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