CPS and Gov. Rauner: The Challenges Continues to Grow

Who knew a 23-year-old rap artist from the South Side community of Chatham would shine attention on the budgetary problems that plague our public-school system in Chicago? After receiving a congratulatory tweet from Gov. Bruce Rauner for winning three Grammy awards, Chancellor Bennett, aka Chance the Rapper, requested a sit-down meeting with the billionaire governor.

Nearly two weeks ago after the young rapper met with Rauner, he didn’t hide his disappointment in the governor’s vague answers to his questions regarding the CPS budget deficit. It was a courageous move from Chicago’s most high-profile millennium jumping over the line with his nonprofit organization, SocialWorks.

With nearly 381,349 students enrolled in the 2016-2017 school year, and a $215 million deficit in state funding, the hardest hit are schools in low-income neighborhoods—African American and Latino students. For the past year, both CPS students and their parents have stood alongside educators from the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU)—marching throughout the streets, threatening to strike in the fall.

Last year, working with a newly appointed CPS CEO, Forrest Claypool, who replaced ousted Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the former CEO who was indicted for receiving kickbacks from a no-bid contract, eroded the trust between CTU and CPS even more. Between the back and forth negotiations between the teacher’s new contract and a struggling school year budget—neither side wanted a strike—as CTU voted for one if necessary—cool heads prevailed and the school year began.

In the center of negotiations was former CPS teacher and principal, Dr. Janice K. Jackson. A college graduate of Chicago State University, earning her BA and MA—later earning her PhD at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her rise through the CPS ranks landed her the key position of Chief Education Officer (CEdO) since July 2015.

CPS Chief Education Officer, Janice Jackson

Growing up in the Auburn Gresham community, she is a product of the Chicago Public School system since she began her education—attending John W. Cook Elementary and graduating from Hyde Park High School.

A South Side native like Chance—she was beyond pleased with gratitude by last week’s announcement of SocialWorks’ $1 million donation.

“I have to really thank Chance for his donation on so many levels. I look at it from so many directions. As a representative for CPS, I’m obviously blessed. But as a fellow South Sider, I know his family well,” she said. “A lot of times when young people are out here doing what they’re doing, they don’t have that consciousness. What I appreciate about him is that he’s been wildly successful but he’s still very conscious and very woke. From that standpoint, I appreciate what he did and it means a lot from us.”

Although, Chance’s $1 million donation from concert ticket sales is a generous contribution to assist performing arts programming in selected schools—there is a great deal more needed.

Jackson says, she feels that it shows leadership because the district needed more people stepping up to support CPS.  Unfortunately, they can’t fund schools from the philanthropic community and donations alone.

“It’s the state’s responsibility to fund education. The Illinois constitution says that plainly. We appreciate what he did and I think it caused attention on a large-scale of what’s going on with CPS. But, at the end of the day, we’re supposed to have constant revenue,” Jackson said. “A constant revenue stream so that the school districts throughout the state including Chicago, principals in every school can anticipate what they’re budget is going to be and plan for a school—plan for instruction around that.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner visits the Chicago Defender offices. Photo: Mary L. Datcher

Addressing our Defender Editorial board, Gov. Rauner was asked about why the state has not pushed through funding the allocated funding of $215 million.  He says, the current formula to fund CPS has been in place for several decades prior to his administration.

“Illinois has overly relied on local property taxes to fund schools, more than any other state. That means school districts with very little property value in lower-income areas have less amount of money to put in their school districts and this is just wrong. This denies the American dream to too many kids. We need more equity in the school funding, ” said Rauner, who formed a bipartisan commission that is working on a proposed bill based on their recommendations.

In his fight with House Democrats in Springfield, he believes CPS is suffering from years of mismanagement due to allocated grant blocks.

“Chicago gets a block grant of $250 million that no other school district in Illinois gets because Chicago pays its own teacher’s pension. It’s the deal, it’s an understanding. They come out slightly ahead when you look at the math. In the meantime, while Chicago gets the block grant, they have skipped the teacher’s pension payments in the 1990’s and early 2000’s,” the Governor said.

Jackson says, although the district receives certain block grants—they are also the third largest school district in the country.

“The state has given CPS fewer dollars each year. The governor would also say that CPS gets a lot of extra grants—block grants. We do, we get a special grant for Special Ed and all sorts of things. The fact is, and he can’t dispute this, when you put everything all in that the state gives CPS compared to what they paid out in other school districts, we get 75 cents for every dollar that every school system throughout the state receives.”

As Chance and other business people step to the plate to assist CPS in helping students not to suffer through this mayhem, everyone agrees

In his announcement via his twitter account—SocialWorks announced the schools that would receive funds from his initial CPS donation.

We reached out to SocialWorks for a comment on how they determined each school selection and no representatives were available for an official statement.

Rauner, an advocate of charter schools and supporter of newly appointed U.S. Secretary of Education, Betty DeVos beliefs everyone should have a choice to quality education. “One of my frustrations is there has been traditionally a major disparity between the funding for some of the schools on the South Side and West Side versus some of the schools in the higher income neighborhoods. That’s a fact. I’ve been angry with this. I’ve been talking about and fighting on it for years. We need equal funding. We need proper support for all schools, not just schools in wealthier neighborhoods,” he said.

CPS Lawsuits

CPS has taken the gloves off and filed a lawsuit against the state for these funds that tips the playing field to other school districts, calling out the state for discriminatory practices and declaring Illinois teacher pension funding unlawful.

Five families of CPS students have filed the lawsuit.

CTU President Karen Lewis addresses thousands of marchers at the Thompson Center. Photo: Mary L. Datcher/Chicago Defender

Jackson admits, race does play a component on how the states prioritize funding to areas. “I’m excited about having a judge consider this and ask is it really a disparity? Are Black and Brown children being treated differently because of the state funding system? Maybe that wasn’t the intent of the funding system when it was created but the results end up looking like Black and brown kids in Chicago get less money than everyone else in the state. It just happens that majority of the students throughout the state are white,” she said. “I’m glad the district took a bold step to file the civil rights lawsuit and it gets away from duking it out in the media based on who gets a headline and what stories are written. If a judge looks at it, a judge that is impartial—they can make a decision.”

Unfortunately, this is not enough for CTU President, Karen Lewis. The riff continues to widen between Claypool and the union as teachers struggle with a declining budget.

In response to a letter sent home to parents, Claypool mentioned the school district will cut off the school year as early as June 1, 2017 and cancel summer school if the district’s claims for more state money.  CTU is not taking the bait, in statement, “He (Mayor Emanuel) would rather go toe to toe with alderman on planting trees than drain the TIF Surplus and reinstate a corporate head tax—two measures that would plug the budget hole today. Rahm has consistently chosen his billionaire buddies over the needs of our communities.”

Jackson hopes that a decision is met quickly and swiftly to prevent a short school year from taking place.

“When we presented our case, the judge accepted the accelerated calendar. If you take something to court, it can take years to get a resolution. We’re going to be arguing our case in front of a judge next month in April. This means the judge is taking the case seriously and hopefully, we’ll have a result.”

Compared to other school districts outside of CPS, there are nearly 90 percent students of color that are in the system. The triangulation between CPS, CTU and Gov. Rauner is like a dirty, nasty divorce and our kids are in the middle of this ménage à trois of legislative red tape.

Building Trust

As each side battles through what they feel is best for the district’s students, Jackson understands the discord and distrust of CPS from the 50+ school closings in 2012 to the ongoing contractual and pension negotiations with CTU.

“I believe you can work with CTU and labor unions in a productive way. Building and strengthening the trust is important to me. A lot of the break in the relationship in the CTU and CPS relationship is just ‘trust’. Things have happened so it takes time to heal that,” she said.

Understanding the importance and security schools provided for communities of color before drastic measures are made and the community must be engaged throughout the process.

“CPS has been improving academically. Our test scores are higher, graduation rates are higher, and a lot of students ended up in better schools. Better is qualitative, but for some kids when you’re being displaced from your school that can be traumatic. Taking that into consideration, the social emotional component needs to be a part of anything we do going forward. It can’t just be you’re in a ‘better’ performing school, it must be what loss is a kid experiencing going from school A to school B.

A lifelong Chicagoan, Jackson grew up in the CPS system throughout her childhood and most importantly, her children attend CPS schools.

“So, when I make decisions, those aren’t decisions that are for other people’s children. I know what it’s like to be a teacher in this district. I know what it’s like to be a principal in this district and I know what it’s like to be a parent in this district. When I make decisions, it’s coming from those different lenses.”

Could this be the same lenses, Chance the Rapper, a Jones Prep Academy alum, look through as he prepares to give his own baby girl an opportunity to grow up in the same public school system?

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