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CPS Hunger Games: 2017

February 8, 2017

Things are bad here in Chicago. They are bad less because of trumped up news about crime and policing (problems which most certainly exist), but because of a terrible ideological environment. The bad ideas circulating in our discursive air have fed a terrible political situation. The consequences lie heaviest on the arena of public education. Recent CPS revenue problems, and subsequent budget cuts, have fostered a real life, on-the-ground Hunger Games situation among our schools.

As of the latest round of cuts, instituted earlier this week, the school with which I’m most familiar, Swift Elementary, lost $35,673 from the *last* bit of money we had for non-labor expenditures. The rest of our $5,561,315 budget goes for labor (teachers and staff). And we already cut staff last year. Swift now has absolutely no money for supplies, extracurriculars, and after-school programs. We are now unable to make regular end-of-year book purchases (i.e for next year’s workbooks).

The situation has gotten so dire that I’m now thinking of our public school as a pseudo-private institution that needs a full-time fundraising staff—an Alumni Relations and Development office to scare up funds.

To make matters more frustrating, the cuts come amidst legal (and just) mandates to educate students with IEPs and 504 plans. The past two rounds of cuts necessitated the reallocation of a teacher to special education, which resulted, after a game of musical chairs, in our first graders losing one of their three teachers. This means three classrooms of 20 each became two with 30 students. All of this is happening midyear. There’s no way this discontinuity is good for our impressionable six-year-olds. This also sets up hard feelings and potential squabbles between parents about the internal allocation of funds.

What makes all of this suck even more is that it’s self-inflicted. Neither the City of Chicago nor the State of Illinois are allocating enough money to cover the bare minimums. Governor Rauner is holding CPS hostage until ideological demands about teacher pensions and school choice are met. (He’s a DeVos supporter.) Both entities have enough monies overall, but neither are prioritizing our schools. I know first hand that we don’t have expenditure issues. No teachers or principals are getting rich. Few schools in the city have the structural amenities enjoyed at suburban schools. Chicago could have schools as nice as the suburbs, but our political leaders won’t prioritize schooling over tax breaks to businesses, feeding the TIF funds, and allocating for expensive projects, such as the forthcoming DePaul basketball arena in the South Loop.

The result is that all public schools are now forced to go, hat in hand, to businesses and parents for necessary assistance. But public schools are not equipped with development staff. This means that parents, teachers, and staff must solicit donations for fundamental needs. This is not about raising money for lavish field trips or unusual programming.  (Interested parties can make donations to Swift here, via the connected PayPal account.)

I’m a Swift parent with two children in our school. We’re involved.  I’m the chair of our Local School Council (LSC). My spouse volunteers a great deal of time with Swift’s Parent Advisory Council (PAC). We’re neither spectators nor school shoppers. We don’t expect public schools to function like consumer goods (where “choice” reigns). Swift is our neighborhood school. It’s a vital part of the local community. The success of the school depends on involvement from people like us—but also on adequate funding.

We know our hardworking teachers, staff, and administrators. We know our parents. We know the school grounds and the neighborhood. The Swift family deserves better. Our schools shouldn’t be isolated communities competing with each other for funds made scarce for ideological reasons. No school should have to exist in a real-life Hunger Games environment.

Thanks for listening. I apologize for any incoherence above. I’m writing out of a deep, ongoing frustration with so many things related to public education, CPS, and our local, state, and national political climate. It’s just so depressing. – TL

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