Vallas: Funding should aid students, not boost Chicago Teachers Union job count

Vallas: Funding should aid students, not boost Chicago Teachers Union job count

Chicago Public Schools is changing its funding formula. It should be about student welfare and achievement. It’s really about keeping Chicago Teachers Union jobs intact even as enrollment drops.

Chicago Public Schools recently announced the end of student-based budgeting, citing a desire to implement a new funding formula based on “student needs.” By abandoning student-based budgeting, the district no longer wants the money to follow the students.

Instead, they want the Chicago Teachers Union to dictate how the money will be used.

The current formula already adjusts based on need: schools with more students in poverty or with special needs get more funding. General state aid and local property tax revenues are tied to student enrollment and average daily attendance at schools. Considerable federal Title I funding is provided for low-income students, as is funding for special education students.

The truth is the new funding model is more about the CTU maintaining staffing levels despite dwindling school enrollment. It has less to do with helping students.

More than one-third of the district’s 474 traditional schools are half empty or worse, according to CPS’ 2023-2024 school utilization data. The new formula could allow greater and continued funding to be directed to near-empty schools.

The CTU opposes any changes that in any way impact its members’ workload, job descriptions, job security or union membership numbers – even if the changes help students. The funding formula is the latest victim of CTU’s crusade.

Like the district’s failing sustainable community schools initiative and the assault on selective enrollment schools, the change to a “needs-based funding formula” is long on rhetoric but short on substance.

To tackle Chicago’s public education crisis, we must recognize the school system is too centralized, wasting money on bureaucracy instead of focusing on classrooms. It is beholden to the teachers union’s restrictive contract. Only 54% of all district funds go to the local schools.

To truly improve neighborhood schools, we don’t need to punish or restrict successful ones. Instead, we should decentralize the administration so more of the district’s $9.6 billion budget reaches classrooms directly, removing obstacles to transforming those local schools for the benefit of students and communities. We should also empower the Local School Councils to do what they feel is needed to improve academic achievement.

Where to start:

  • Allow schools as needed to lengthen the instructional day and year to help students make up for lost instructional time during COVID-19 or assist special needs students.
  • Determine their own school staffing model to make teacher and other staff changes that, in their judgment, best meet their students’ needs.
  • Restructure schools, especially neighborhood high schools, by adopting magnet-type models that will expand local school offerings and attract more students.
  • Invite charter schools or alternative school providers to occupy or share space in near-empty buildings.
  • Allow Local School Councils to change their school model, even converting a school to a public charter school, if the school is failing or unsafe.
  • Decentralize the district so much more than 54% of the $30,000 the district spends per student – $9.6 billion total – finds its way into classrooms.

The best way to fund schools is by radically de-centralizing the central office, allowing more funding to flow to schools, and empowering the principals and their elected Local School Councils. We’ve already seen what happens when funding primarily flows to CTU.

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