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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Access Living FY 2018 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Budget Review on Special Education & Students with Disabilities

Chicago – On September 18, 2017 Access Living released the FY 2018 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Budget Review to the public. Near the start of each school year, Access Living publishes a review of the CPS Budget. The publication analyzes the impact of the CPS Budget on special education and students with disabilities, and makes a series of recommendations. The report is authored by Access Living’s Education Policy Analyst, Rodney Estvan . A copy of Access Living’s Budget Review has been sent to CPS.

Access Living was prepared to release the report prior to the CPS Board Meeting on August 28, when the Board approved the CPS Budget. Access Living delayed publication because of funding debate in Springfield and ongoing uncertainty around the CPS Budget. Nearly one month after CPS approved the budget, Access Living remains, “skeptical that there is sufficient revenue in the State budget to fully fund the evidence based model on an ongoing basis, or CPS will receive all the State revenue it is assuming it will in the FY 18 budget.” For these reasons, “Access Living believes CPS needs to amend its FY 18 budget and does not support the budget CPS passed at its August 2017 Board meeting.” 

The FY 18 CPS Budget continues to be published in a format that makes transparency a serious issue. The Chicago Public Schools historically broke down the Special Education Budget into up to 50 specific instructional program codes. Under the current format, CPS continues to merge most categorical district wide special education funding with student based funding. Most special education program codes continue to read zero. Estvan notes that CPS did make some concessions to parents, CPS staff, and principals who objected to the utilization of student-based funding for cluster programs for students with significant disabilities. CPS did so by moving back to direct funding of those programs. CPS also eliminated a four percent special education appeals holdback and distributed those funds to schools proactively at the beginning of the year. Estvan welcomes those changes calling them “an advancement on the part of CPS… (Page14).” 
The Access Living Budget Review notes the extensive borrowing CPS undertook in the last year. The report also discusses the extraordinary rates of interest CPS will be paying for these loans going forward, paying “at least four times what a government body with good credit would pay for short term loans, (Page 17).”

The report also notes extensive borrowing for capital purposes by CPS, so much so that one construction industry trade publication stated CPS was “set to ignite construction boom, (Page 19).” The report recommends that CPS limit its capital program to repair, maintenance, life safety, environmental, ADA compliance and accommodations in the future due to its fiscal situation, (Page 31).

The Budget Review offers budgeting process recommendations. It recommends Chicago Board’s budget or audit subcommittee hold numerous public sessions starting in May of each year. These sessions should establish expected revenue estimates for the next school year’s budget, expected expenditures, and potential savings for the school district. If revenue estimates are unclear
, CPS needs to put forward multiple analyses using different revenue estimates and not utilize just the most favorable estimate available. Cash flow projections and required short term borrowing on the part of CPS should be publicly revealed using multiple revenue estimates. These subcommittee meetings should result in a budget proposal that would go before the Board and public hearings required by the State School Code. Any proposed cost savings involving layoffs of school or administrative staff should be discussed prior to the release of the budget in subcommittee meetings. There should be an impact analysis done of all position reductions and that analysis should be made public.
The CPS Board approved the budget on August 28 amidst negotiations in Springfield to end the school funding impasse. Negotiations led to passage of PA 100-0465. Despite this agreement, funding uncertainty remains because, “There is no way around the fact that the assumed City funding was reduced by $189 million…, (page 27).” In the Budget Review, Access Living concludes, “It’s impossible to create a balanced CPS budget with that reduction in the City’s commitment to CPS, (page 27).”

Access Living’s Budget Review also addresses the “Invest in Kids Act.” The program allows donors to dedicate revenue in the form of scholarships for students to attend private schools. Access Living does not support the “Invest in Kids Act,” which was approved by the Illinois General Assembly. The funding proposal will leave behind students in Special Education because in private schools students with disabilities and their families will not be provided with the rights they currently have under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The full Budget Review report is available for download on the Access Living website. 

(right of press release, mid level - click for PDF download)
Established in 1980, Access Living is a non-profit, Chicago-based disability rights and service organization that provides individualized, peer-based services for people with disabilities. With a strong influence in public policy and social reform, Access Living is committed to challenging stereotypes, protecting civil rights and breaking institutional and community barriers. For more information, contact Gary Arnold at 312-640-2199(voice), garnold@accessliving.org, 312-640-2102(TTY). 
source: press release Access Living

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