The Fiscal Abandonment of Chicago Public Schools: What it Says about our Nation

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By Gina Caneva

Recently, principals across CPS notified their staff to brace themselves for a 40% budget cut, delivering a further devastating blow to our students and to educational equity. In Springfield, lawmakers remain at odds in deciding on a budget and have entered into a special session, leaving our students and schools in jeopardy. Governor Rauner has pushed the burden of funding back on the city of Chicago by proposing over $70 million less funding to CPS. Nationally, lawmakers in Washington D.C. have done little to ensure that pre-K through 12 education is equally funded. CPS has become an orphaned district that is a microcosm of what's wrong with the funding of our nation's public schools.

Decisions at the local level are as difficult to come by as those at the state legislature. In our most desperate of times, the city of Chicago has not diverted TIF money to CPS; rather, in recent years, Mayor Emanuel has pushed our city to invest TIF funds to promote tourism in odd ways. The basketball stadium in the South Loop which is supposed to support DePaul's Basketball programs, comes to mind as DePaul is located on the north side of Chicago and is a privately funded university. These types of initiatives are taking precedence over the use of additional funding for our schools.

The majority of U.S. school funding comes at the state and local levels which can vary from state-to-state and district-to-district. Yet we are often taken aback when we see data that shows American students falling behind their peers academically when compared to students in foreign countries. According to the Pew Research Center, American 15-year-olds rank 35th out of 64 countries in math and 27th out of 64 countries in science. Might this be because we are fiscally abandoning students in our poorest communities locally, regionally, and nationally as we continue to hold them to international standards? Why aren't we leveling the playing field by providing all American students with equal funding across the nation?

This year marks the 62nd anniversary of Brown v. the Board of Education, which declared that "separate educational facilities" are "inherently unequal." This was a case based on race, but it now resonates with socioeconomic class as students in poverty are receiving separate funding and often educational facilities of lower quality than their peers in the middle and upper classes. According to a recent report from NPR, school districts and/or parents are suing thirteen states across the nation because of issues with inequities in school funding.

Our city has known about the state's inequity of funding for years. Yet, instead of investing local funds into our schools and students, Chicago's decision-makers have opted for pet projects and opened a large number of charter schools in an effort to run the education job with fewer financial commitments.

Even if our state and city find a way to move forward and equitably fund education, inequities would still exist between states. This fractured way of funding public education will only lead to more inequity. Of course, the most comprehensive, equitable solution is also the most far-fetched and would take a constitutional amendment--the U.S. should make public education funding universal. Countries like Finland, South Korea, and Singapore all rank higher education-wise than the U.S., and all have equity in educational funding.

Since such change is not likely to occur anytime soon, change at Illinois must begin at the state level. As our state lawmakers continue into their special session, they must act against the status quo of inequitable funding. Regardless of what happens in Springfield, Chicago needs to invest in our public schools as urgently as we invest in tourism. Our students are performing at high levels despite being fiscally abandoned at every level of government. If these cuts in CPS do happen, it will show the failure of our American local, state, and national government to support high quality, public education to our most vulnerable group of children.

We must rethink our goals as a nation and choose education for our children as a priority instead of poorly investing in our nation's future. It's time that we give Chicago students and poor students across our nation equal opportunities through equitable funding.

Gina Caneva is a twelve-year CPS veteran who works as a teacher-librarian and Writing Center Director at Lindblom Math and Science Academy. She is a National Board Certified teacher and Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alum. Follow her on Twitter: @GinaCaneva.