Chicago Public Schools ends funding dispute with charters with $19 million boost

After a monthslong impasse with Chicago Public Schools over funding, the city’s 100-some charters will receive $19 million more next school year — equal to a 3 percent bump — under a new funding formula, the district said Friday.

Both sides said they gained something in the new agreement: Chicago Public Schools said it won more flexibility on how to fund the privately managed public schools. Charter operators said they received more money for students who need special education or bilingual services and for facilities. Most charters have to pay for their own leases or mortgages on their buildings. (You can use our tool below to see how much money individual charter schools will receive for next school year.)

But the agreement wasn’t reached easily. In a complaint signed by 25 charter administrators in April, operators charged the district had withheld nearly $50 million in payments owed to them for the last quarter of the school year, and they warned they’d have to shorten the school year, withhold teacher pay, and cancel events and out-of-school activities.  

The head of the state’s largest charter network, the Noble network, said she was pleased with the settlement, and that the budget represents progress toward more equitable funding.

“Every child in a public school — regardless if the school is district-run or is a non-profit charter like Noble — deserves equitable funding that meets their needs,” Jones said in a statement. Noble will see a budget increase of $7 million next school year. “We are pleased that CPS has released budgets that represent progress toward more equitable funding for students in Chicago.”

The new funding formula will portion out funds to charter schools based on enrollment, just as the district funds the schools it runs. The district also will pay an additional sum for each student who need special education or bilingual services. It also will appropriate funds for facilities, which most charters currently have to finance themselves.

The roots of the problem go back to 2017, when state lawmakers passed school funding reform measures meant to more equitably fund schools. Those measures required districts to provide charters with 97 percent to 103 percent of what’s known as per capita tuition (the district’s total operational expenses divided by its number of students); previously, the range had been broader and had given districts more leeway to determine charter spending.

Chicago has more than 100 charter schools, but not all of them have agreed to the funding measure. Alain Locke Charter School, Chicago Math and Science Academy, Great Lakes Academy, and the seven LEARN campuses have not yet signed the funding agreement, which means Chicago continues to withhold their full fourth-quarter payments.

Some of the schools, however, may sign on in coming weeks. Christopher Murphy, communications officer at Concept Schools, which runs Chicago Math and Science Academy, said the school had not signed on to the formula only because the final agreement had come in between board meetings, and he expected the board to sign at its next meeting in June. “We have every intention of signing it next month,” Murphy said.

Chicago Public Schools said in March that it plans to funnel $55 million more to district-run schools. The state revised its school funding formula in 2017, which resulted in more money for Chicago education.

The reconciliation between the district and charter operators comes at a politically sensitive time. Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, pledged during her campaign to enact a moratorium on new charter schools until she has time to study issues and said she wanted to examine the district’s relationship with charters.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker also has said he supports a charter freeze. Legislation is underway in Springfield that would kill a state charter commission that can override local school boards and can authorize and oversee charter schools.

To see how much charter schools receive in the new budget breakdown, use the tool below.

Charter school-by-school budget increases in Chicago Public Schools