Parents, teachers remain wary as CPS reevaluates special education funding


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special education photo

By metro reporter

Plans to realign special education funding to meet the needs of students were announced by Chicago Public Schools amid cries from CPS educators and families, who have been protesting the city’s funding cuts since the May 1 release of the 2016 budget. Particularly unpopular is CPS’ All Means All program, which gives principals a lump sum of money to spend on their special education students, based on the number of students.

 According to a Nov. 25 press release, CPS will reallocate funding in district-run schools for 3,007 special education teaching positions, compared to 2,885 last year, and 2,687 paraprofessional positions, up from 2,662 last year.

“We recognize this process has been challenging for some families and school leaders, and we are committed to implementing an improved, bottom-up process for next school year that will allow principals to play a more robust role in determining how to meet their students’ needs,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said in the Nov. 25 press release.   

According to the press release, the formula CPS used to make a second round of cuts this year was flawed, so CPS will conduct a thorough review of its diverse learner resource allocation process to improve next year’s budget process.

Sarah Chambers, a special education teacher for Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy, 2850 W. 24th Blvd., said her school will see the return of two positions, but the positions will not be reinstated until February because teachers cannot transfer mid-semester.

“I was ecstatic we had that victory and I know CPS will never admit it, but the reason we had that victory was because of all the pushback with parents and community organizations,” Chambers said. “You can feel helpless at times, so it’s great to see these wins when you push back.”

According to the press release, the All Means All pilot program, which began in 2015 and provides student-based funding instead of position allocations, received $130.3 million in funding this school year.

Chambers said the fight for special education resources is not over, and CPS’ All Means All program is cutting funding from special education.

According to Chambers, the All Means All program attaches a monetary value to each special education student, and the amount is the same for all students regardless of their needs and what is listed in their IEP.

“The problem is the amount of money they attach to each student is way too low, so all these schools don’t have enough to cover basic needs,” Chambers said.

Chambers said All Means All funding was previously allocated based on students’ Individualized Education Program, but CPS changed the policy to save money.

“Specifically [All Means All] turns special education funding into student-based budgeting,” Chambers said. “I think we have to keep up the pressure on CPS so this program is not implemented at all. We’ve already talked about it being a complete failure, but CPS will do whatever they can get away with.”

Josh Radinsky, parent of a child with Down syndrome who attends Jacqueline B. Vaughn Occupational High School, 4355 N. Linder Ave., said the school lost more special education positions during the summer than any other school.

“The principals and teachers work so hard to create a good learning environment for our kids, and they’re having to do it on this quicksand of CPS not knowing what it is doing and incompetence in the way they run special education,” Radinsky said.

Radinsky called the All Means All program a disaster and said this year’s cuts have been the worst he has ever witnessed.

“As a parent, I see an incredible pattern of failure by [Office of Diverse Learners Support and Services] to abide by the law and to meet the needs of our kids,” Radinsky said.