Chicago Public Schools could see a $391M budget deficit next school year, official says

A photo of two empty seats for Chicago’s school board members on shared dais. In front of the seats is the table part of the dais. Behind the seats is a gray, matte, and square sign. In the middle of the sign is a circle with a hand holding a torch inside. Above the circle is the words “Board of Education,” curved around the circle. Below is the circle is the words “City of Chicago,” also curved. Wrapping around the words in a half circle is a laurel.
Chicago Public Schools is projecting a $391M budget deficit next year. (Max Lubbers / Chalkbeat)

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Chicago Public Schools is expecting a $391 million budget shortfall next year as federal COVID relief money runs out, officials said Wednesday. 

The district has received $2.8 billion in COVID relief since the onset of the pandemic. The last $300 million of that will be spent in 2025, according to Mike Sitkowski, chief budget officer for CPS, who shared the figures during a Board of Education meeting. The current budget is $9.4 billion. Next year’s budget starts July 1, 2024 and will cover the 2024-25 school year. 

By law, the school district must balance its budget, Sitkowski noted. That means district officials will either have to cut expenses or find a way to boost revenue. Board President Jianan Shi called for the latter. 

“Our district needs more revenue, and this is a moment for all of us at every level to stand up and advocate for our teachers, our students, our families, for this board to advocate for more revenue at the state, local, and federal levels,” Shi said after the presentation.

The financial update comes as the City Council holds budget hearings for the city’s next budget, which is due by the end of the year but is typically finalized by Thanksgiving. The district’s budget operates on a different timeline, more closely matching the school year. The district will also hold budget community roundtables for the public throughout November. (Dates can be found here.

Districts across the nation have been bracing for financial challenges as their pandemic relief dollars run out. Chicago officials have directed their relief dollars toward employee salaries, hiring more instructional staff and creating several new programs. About $670 million of federal relief was included in this year’s budget — representing about 7% of the current budget set to end June 30, 2024. 

Asked on previous occasions about what CPS will do once the federal money runs out, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez has said district officials plan to ask the state for more support. 

The $391 million deficit is the result of complicated collection of revenues and costs the district is projecting for next year: First, the district will have a $670 million hole in next year’s budget due to the loss of federal pandemic aid, according to Sitkowski’s presentation. That gap will be partially filled by the last bit of federal relief — about $300 million. However, the district is also expecting $123 million more in expenses it says it can’t control, including for teacher pension costs, debt service, health care costs, and inflation, Sitkowski said.

Those costs will be partially offset by rising revenues of $102 million, which include $23 million more from the state, as well as some rising tax collections, and more state support for pensions, according to Sitkowski.

The projections shared on Wednesday seem to outpace what a previous analysis warned of. A report issued under former Mayor Lori Lightfoot warned of a potential $628 million deficit by 2026 and predicted a neutral outlook for 2025. The report also noted that as the city has shifted more costs onto the district, it could shoulder more expenses as the board goes from mayoral control to an elected body. 

District officials have been ratcheting up pressure for more money from state officials. This school year, CPS is projected to see a $23 million increase in state funding, for a total of about $1.77 billion this school year. 

But on Wednesday, Sitkowski said that if the state fully funded districts under the Evidence-Based Funding Formula, CPS would have an additional $1.1 billion in funding.

Last month, the board highlighted the need for $3.1 billion to address critical repairs at school facilities over the next five years. 

Sitkowski said direct funding at the school level has also increased by $1 billion since fiscal year 2019, even as enrollment dipped. More than 2,300 teachers were hired in that time, including classroom teachers, interventionists, and educators for the arts and physical education, he noted. 

Reema Amin is a reporter covering Chicago Public Schools. Contact Reema at ramin@chalkbeat.org

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