More administrators, more money for small schools: Here are 8 items getting more funding in Chicago schools budget

Chicago Public Schools just released a $7.7 billion budget proposal — its largest to date — and one that includes money for teacher raises, building upgrades, new technology, pre-K expansion and additional counselors.

The budget plan is about $117 million or 1.5% larger than last year’s. Chicago will hold a series of budget meetings before the school board considers approving it Aug. 28. Find the full list of meetings below this article. 

Schools will get about $3.8 billion of the district’s operating budget, roughly $73 million more than the amount budgeted for school-level costs last year, according to a district spokesperson. The district is putting fewer overall dollars into its student-based budgeting formula but sending more to schools through supplemental funds for high-need students, “equity grants” for dwindling enrollment and expansions of popular programs like International Baccalaureate or science and technology programs known as STEM. 

Related: Chicago is throwing its smallest high schools a lifeline. But is it enough?

About two-thirds of schools will see their budgets go up, while the rest will see their budgets go down, because school budgeting in Chicago is still largely tied to the number of pupils in a building, and overall enrollment is down.

District leaders, though shouldering about $8.4 billion in long-term debt, have said they are standing on improved financial footing after years of cuts and tight budgets, with more money from tax revenues and $1.87 billion from the state’s evidence-based funding formula, a 4% increase over last year.

A look at eight growing investments gives a glimpse of the district’s priorities and challenges in the coming year.

1. Increase in “supplemental funds” amid enrollment declines

When announcing the budget last week, leaders touted increased spending on support for students in special education, English learners, low-income students and schools with declining enrollment. 

Related: 5 big questions for Mayor Lori Lightfoot about Chicago school funding reform

With enrollment declining at Chicago Public Schools, the district proposes spending 1.1% less on enrollment-based budget allocations at traditional district-run schools. But the district says total funding for schools has increased compared with last year’s budgeted amount because of supplemental funding for high-needs students, including students living in poverty, English learners, and for schools with declining enrollment. However, the district does not factor into its base funding formula all of the categories that advocates have sought, such as homeless students, refugees, and students exposed to trauma. The district has committed to reexamining its funding formula over next year. 

The Chicago Teachers Union has criticized the budget proposal, saying that it falls short of critical investments needed to ensure that every school has a librarian, nurse, and enough full-time social workers and psychologists to serve its population. In late July, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced plans to hire hundreds of support positions over the next five years, which would end up being 95 new positions this year.  The union wants it enshrined in the contract, and City Hall negotiators have so far demurred.

Related: Three weeks before school starts, union president says negotiations show little progress

2. Still no small schools plan

The budget lacks a comprehensive strategy on underutilized schools. As it did last year, the district proposes allocating about $31 million to prop up budgets for 219 schools with low or declining enrollment that wrestle with limited resources and fears of closure, but about one-third of those schools will still see budget cuts. The district also plans to spend $32 million over five years ($5 million in 2019-20) investing in new academic programs meant to attract students to neighborhood schools.

Related: Good news for some schools in $32 million push, but questions surface about whether process is fair

3. Equity office grows — a wee bit

The 1-year-old equity office is increasing its proposed budget by 22% over what it spent last year, to about $1.3 million. The money will help fund two additional positions, and support the Great Expectations Mentorship program, which aims to improve the leadership pipeline for black and Latinx men. Over the next school year, the district’s equity office will work to center equity in policy decisions, train educators and staff, and implement “an African American and Latinx male equity plan,” according to the budget.

Related: Chicago schools equity chief promises new decision-making tool this summer

4. A growing bureaucracy

The district’s proposed central office budget will increase by 14% to $279 million, and increase from about 900 people at the end of last school year to 1,060 people.  Experts say the relative size of Chicago’s education bureaucracy, about 5% of the district’s operating budget, is bigger than other large urban school districts, even as the city has moved toward a more decentralized approach to governing and funding schools. Marguerite Roza, an education finance researcher, questions whether the district could put more of those dollars and positions into schools as it seeks ways to allocate resources toward students with the most need.

Related: At more than $1 billion, Illinois tops the nation in school administration spending

5. More money for special education and student supports

The special education department has a proposed budget of $267 million, an increase of about 3.5% over last year’s spending. The department, under state oversight following findings that it routinely delayed or denied students services, is being led by an interim chief as the district tries filling a vacancy left at the top by Elizabeth Keenan’s departure. The budget proposes investing $10 million to fund nearly 100 additional nurses, social workers, and case managers. Yet the district still has scores of vacancies from similar promises made by the last mayor, and budgeting for the positions doesn’t guarantee the district can fill them.

Related: Room at the top: Chicago schools chief looks to fill leadership vacancies

6. English learners getting a boost in support positions

With 18.7% of the district’s children classified as English language learners, slightly up from 18% the year before, the office of Language and Cultural Education has a proposed 11% increase from last year’s spending to $10 million and will retain 39 positions. The district also proposes allocating $32 million to schools for bilingual and English instruction, with three-quarters of it for elementary students. 

In addition, a $12 million bump in state funding for English learners will provide support services like tutoring and native-language reading material at 112 schools.

“The good news is CPS finally saw the light, and this money will go to serve children in classrooms,” said Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum, which advocated for the extra funding. “But it’s certainly not enough.” Advocates for English language learners, like Puente, argue that too many schools lack trained teachers and materials for teaching English language learners.

Related: Teacher turnover hits high-poverty schools particularly hard. Here’s how Chicago plans to keep more educators.

7. More dollars for district watchdog

Last year, after an investigation by the Chicago Tribune revealed that the district had mishandled scores of allegations of student sexual abuse, Chicago Public Schools introduced a new department of student protections and pledged to invest more toward an investigations unit. The district’s Office of the Inspector General is getting a 44% increase to 49 positions under the district’s proposal, and will  add 15 positions to a team tasked with investigating student sexual abuse allegations. The department’s proposed budget will grow to $6 million, a 67% increase over what it spent last year. At the last school board meeting in July, the department reported it had 219 open investigations into allegations of sexual misconduct.

8. More training for school security officers and an expansion of Safe Passage

The district proposes increasing its safety and security budget to $38 million, a 3% increase over last year’s spending. The office, which oversees the more than 1,000 school security officers working in schools across the city, plans to launch an initiative that would require all district schools to complete a safety audit, recertify all security staff in de-escalation and sexual abuse prevention practices, and add 10 schools to a program that pays community members to stand along school routes to ensure student safety. School resource officers, or police officers who serve in schools, are overseen by the Chicago Police Department.

Public budget meetings will be held next week. 

Capital hearings will be held on Aug. 21 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at:

  • Amundsen High School — 5110 N. Damen Ave.
  • Morgan Park High School — 1744 W. Pryor Ave.
  • Whitney Young High School — 211 S. Laflin St.

Additionally, Chicago Public Schools will hold two budget hearings on Aug. 20 at district headquarters 42 W. Madison at 4 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. 

Corrected: This story was updated to reflect that year-over-year spending on schools increased by $73 million according to the district and to include dates for public budget hearings.