CPS CEO: State funding formula a ‘cancer’ on CPS

Wesley Herold
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool spoke to a sold-out City Club of Chicago crowd May 30.

By Eric Bradach

Financial shortfalls, delayed state grants and a broken funding formula just continues a pattern of racial discrimination of Chicago Public Schools, said CPS CEO Forrest Claypool.

CPS has been struggling with funding for years, a problem that has escalated during the nearly two-year state budget impasse. On May 30, Claypool spoke to a sold-out City Club of Chicago crowd and continued his harsh criticism of Gov. Bruce Rauner, which increased after the governor vetoed a bill that would have provided $215 million in grants for teacher pensions, as reported Dec. 12, 2016 by The Chronicle. 

“There is no way to sugarcoat this,” Claypool said at Maggiano’s Banquets, 111 W. Grand Ave. “This institutionalized discrimination is taking place in the home state of presidents Lincoln and Obama, a state that prides itself on progressive political views.” 

In February, the Chicago Board of Education along with five CPS families sued Rauner and the Illinois State Board of Education to try to acquire more funding. The lawsuit accused the state of creating two separate and unequal systems for funding public education, according to the Feb. 14 lawsuit.

Claypool continued to press his opinion that CPS is racially discriminated against in his speech titled “An Inconvenient Truth: Education Funding in Black and White.” 

“The state of Illinois has engaged in overt racial discrimination against African-American and Latino school children in Chicago,” Claypool said. “And if it is not understood for what it is, and if not confronted for what it means, it too will prove catastrophic for CPS, for Chicago neighborhoods, for Chicago’s economy, and most importantly, for the futures of hundreds of thousands of children.” 

CBE approved $389 million in short-term loans May 24 to keep schools open to the end of the current school year, which ends June 20. According to CPS, the district is waiting on $467 million in grants, and with the spring state legislative session scheduled to end May 31, Claypool said he is not “holding my breath” for a budget agreement between Rauner and the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. 

Claypool said the state’s education funding system is “unsustainable” and a “cancer” on Chicago’s students. He told the crowd that CPS, which is 90 percent students of color, has nearly 20 percent of Illinois students but only receives 15 percent of state education funds. This has caused a $500 million annual funding gap that continues to grow. While Rauner did not cause this dilemma, he did nothing to solve it, Claypool added. 

“No one person, no one party, no evil set of characters devised this sytem,” Claypool said. “It has evolved through accidents of history and changing demographics, from state fiscal pressures and weak political will. But hurtful recent actions by the governor have exacerbated underlying injustice.” 

Claypool, who received a vote of “no confidence” by the Chicago Teachers Union earlier this month, received a flattering introduction by Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the speech. 

“Wherever Forrest has gone, wherever Forrest has been as a leader, whether it’s the park district or the CTA and also my own office, that is stronger and on firmer ground both in the sense of its mission to serve the public as well as strong ground financially,” Emanuel said. 

Emanuel echoed Claypool’s accusations of discrimination and said Chicago should be celebrating its public school students’ accomplishments; CPS 8th graders lead the nation in math and 4th graders third in the nation for reading. However, despite these achievements, the district has unfortunately been fighting for proper funding, he added. 

Illinois is “dead last” in funding education in the nation, Emanuel said, adding that the funding formula has harmed Chicago’s lower-income neighborhoods the most. 

“The kids of Woodlawn are not treated equally like the kids of Winnetka,” Emanuel said. “The kids of Bronzeville are not treated equally like the kids of Burr Ridge, and the kids of Englewood are not treated equally like the kids of Evanston. That has to stop.” 

Speaking with reporters after his speech, Claypool commented on a May 25 passed House bill that would create an elected school board, starting with elections in 2023. Claypool said it would make no difference on CPS’ performance and does not address the fundamental funding issue. 

In response to an audience question about Rauner’s suggestion that state law be changed to allow CPS to declare bankruptcy, Claypool said that would be a “disaster.” 

Another audience member asked about the CPS schedule for the upcoming academic year, should no movement happen in Springfield.

“We will open the schools in the fall, and we’ll do whatever’s necessary to do that,” Claypool said. “The mayor is committed as well, as he’s made clear in recent weeks.”