Let’s take a closer look at the public schools in Chicago. The budget for this fiscal year is $5.328 billion. The breakdown of revenue sources is: 1.) 18% from federal Title 1 funds, 2.) 36% from state funding which is based on a formula involving students, household income levels and special needs, 3.) 37% from property taxes, 4.) 3% from personal property replacement taxes, which is corporate tax on business, 5.) and 3% from other taxes which come from sources such as school lunches. Almost half of school funding is provided by local sources or 43%. The state’s contribution is 36%. Illinois ranks 49th in its support to schools.
Now let’s look at how it’s spent. 71% of the $5.328B goes directly to schools, 4.4% to central office and 25% is for citywide purposes or discretionary funds. That last category sounds nebulous. What are citywide purposes? So, more than $1B is discretionary spending. Capital expenses are generated by issuing bonds, so that is not a part of the $5.328B. CPS has funded more than $5B in building improvements since 1995 and future need is great.
Maybe now is the time to mention the pension fund. Pension costs have risen dramatically since 2005 when it $200M. It is now at $400M. Apparently a great number of staff has retired since 2005. If that number continues to grow, pension costs will rise accordingly. Hopefully that is not the case. There has been talk about pension underfunding. To remedy the situation, the solution is teetering on having a two-tier system for employees. Anyone coming into the system would receive a pension plan not at the same level as current employees.
Everything examined relative to education seems to hone in on ancillary topics, like budget shortfalls. Someone in charge should be making a balanced budget. Why isn’t more attention given to the actual education of our children? Shouldn’t we talk about how to improve the reading skills of our children? Shouldn’t we focus more on basic math skills? Maybe a discussion on making recess mandatory is needed.
Many professionals come into substitute teaching to give back to their community. That may not be so easy to do. The behavior of the students can be truly unbelievable at times. Teaching can be a real challenge.
There are other municipalities in financial trouble due to overspending. A Utah legislator wants to eliminate the twelfth grade to save money. If done, that would save $60M. All state residents don’t agree. Cincinnati projects a $33M deficit by the year 2012. Toledo, OH projects over $30M in the upcoming year. Ann Arbor, MI projected a deficit of $20M for next year. Detroit has dire problems. After seven years of overspending, it was a candidate for bankruptcy. It has lost almost half of its students over that time period. But for this year, it has projected a slight surplus and intends to come out of deficit spending in three years. Last school year the deficit was $305.8M. St. Paul, MN projects a $25M deficit for this year. Los Angeles, CA projects a $640M deficit for this fiscal year. Chicago topped Los Angeles with a $900M deficit. Chicago is the third largest school district in the nation. Even though other school districts are having budget problems, Chicago has record overspending. If Detroit is successful this fiscal year, it will start the process of bringing itself out of fiscal distress. Chicago needs to do the same.
Unfortunately, all of these facts and figures can be boring. But education is important, important enough to warrant the examination.