State, CPS must find a compromise for the sake of education

By Editorial Board

Forrest Claypool, CEO of Chicago Public Schools, seems to already be planning for a CPS doomsday. 

Claypool announced at a Feb. 27 press conference that in the “worst case scenario,” the CPS academic year may end 13 school days early if state funding doesn’t come through. The district is $130 million in debt for this fiscal year alone and is expecting a $721 million teacher pension payment in June.

It’s unclear why Claypool chose to break the possible news now, but the announcement directly follows the Chicago Board of Education’s civil rights lawsuit against the State of Illinois. The district alleges that the Illinois Board of Education is neglecting minority students and writes, “the State treats CPS’ schoolchildren, who are predominantly African-American and Hispanic, as second-class children, relegated to the back of the State’s education funding school bus,” according to a Feb. 14 Chicago Sun-Times article.

It’s also unclear how reducing school days benefits students, especially minority students. Though the school could save up to $91 million by ending June 1 instead of June 20—and an additional $5 million if summer school is cut—that leaves both students and parents at a severe disadvantage. Not only does summer school keep many children off the streets, but it also provides necessary meals and shelter for eight hours a day. Many depend on this service, and to take it away would show how little CPS and the state supports the children’s general welfare. It is a state’s responsibility to put education first, and for the last several years, neither the state nor  CPS has done that.

Claypool’s decision is a power play from the district to get the state to pay up, but he shouldn’t be using students as pawns in the never-ending budget game.

Cutting 13 days  leaves the school year below the legally required minimum and could result in a $60 million fine, according to a March 2 WBEZ report. Announcing this as a worst-case scenario was the right move, but given the state’s financial woes, these kinds of repercussions should not be taken lightly. 

In 2012, CPS teachers went on a seven-school-day strike, calling for a raise. While the teaching profession is underpaid in many parts of the country, CPS pays the highest salaries to teachers with a bachelor’s degree and five years experience of any of the 50 largest school districts in the country, according to a 2016 Illinois Policy census. Still, students were forced into an nine-day “vacation” during the strike.

That may sound like any kid’s dream, but for some, this meant no hot lunches or supervision while parents worked. In October 2016, the Chicago’s Teacher Union threatened to strike after working without a contract since June 2015, as reported Oct. 17, 2016, by The Chronicle, before reaching an agreement minutes before midnight. 

This is a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped. Celebrities such as Chance the Rapper, who donated $1 million to CPS March 7, and Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett—said he will also donate $1 million—are not responsible for digging CPS out of the hole it is in when the state refuses to help. Families of students should not be responsible for CPS’ inability to give their kids a well-rounded education. Chance the Rapper’s speech to the press was correct: The biggest asset of CPS is its children and if the district can’t step in, the community must work to help cultivate creativity in learning and continue to put the children first, regardless of money.