Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is vowing to veto a school funding bill over a provision which would require the state to pick up the tab for the employer contributions to teacher pensions in Chicago. For every other district in the state, the state contribution is mandated by statute, but the language is “aspirational” for Chicago Public Schools, which had a pension plan in place before the state established one for the other districts, according CPS CEO Forrest Claypool.
In a recent interview with Education Dive, Claypool shared that the district’s “cash deficits each year almost correlate directly with the pension obligation.” In some places, the state is forcing school districts to meet pension obligations by diverting Title I funds to cover those pension contributions.
The recently-passed budget required separate approval of an “evidence based” school funding model, which the Quad-City Times reports would be based on local property value and the needs of specific students in a district. Opposition has mounted over any funding formula which would seem to favor Chicago Public Schools, but Claypool said the current model puts his district at a significant disadvantage.
The district comprises roughly 20% of the enrollment in the state, but gets only 15% of the state funding, when you account for the amount the state contributes to other districts’ pension systems, he said, for a difference of $500 million per year — “essentially the size of our budget deficit.”
“I believe education is not designed for everybody. Somebody has to be the laborer, and somebody has to be the boss."
Dr. Sandy Womack
Director of Principal Leadership Cleveland Heights University Heights School District
“The heart of our issue here in Chicago is we have two separate but unequal funding systems,” said Claypool. “There is no other place in the United States where the state itself deliberately provides hundreds of millions of dollars less in funding to African-American and Latino children. … This is not about adequacy, it’s about overt racially-based unequal funding — 60 years after Brown [vs. Board of Education].”
Dr. Sandy Womack, Jr., Director of Principal Leadership Cleveland Heights University Heights School District, believes the pattern is not limited to Chicago, but is indicative of a broader systemic effort to maintain the country’s historic balance of power.
“I believe education is not designed for everybody. Somebody has to be the laborer, and somebody has to be the boss,” Womack said, noting the intentional design which has positioned people of color — first Native Americans, then African-Americans, now Hispanics, as the underclass in this country.
“People are scared of diversity within schools, and therefore funding is made to look as if we are providing resources for those in need, but in actuality, those who have the least are charged the most,” said Womack.
“And I think poverty is a multimillion dollar business,” he said. “When we look at some of the educational outcomes of what we see today, it’s very similar to what the design was.”
Taking money from students who need it the most
After moving one of the worst rated schools in Stark County, Ohio from an F-rated school to a B-rated school — an effort Womack said required a lot of community collaboration — he was dismayed to find “I was removed as principal and sent to a sister school and the staff was reconstituted in spite of coming out of School Improvement Status.”
“Unfortunately, what I found out was the worse we did the more funding we received. The better we scored the fewer resources we had. This was an anomaly to me. How could failure provide more funding? Why would academic achievement and closing achievement gaps leave a school destitute and with less human and social capital to sustain the growth?”
He concluded there must be what he describes as “a systemic process that provided additional supports for failure and withdrew support when schools were demonstrating growth.”
“Having a building that moved from an F to a B … when we moved to a B, staffing was reduced, my funding for Title I was reduced, the Eisenhower money I had gotten from the federal government was cut,” along with a number of other funding sources, which provided for an extended school day and additional teachers and staff members to help support student growth and achievement, Womack said. “As soon as you start making progress with that population of kids, all of that money was taken out.”
This pattern was exacerbated by federal policies from No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top, which made way for states and the federal government to punish achievement by diverting funds intended to help struggling schools into alternative, experimental school models, including charters. Despite the fact that additional federal funding was intended “to supplement, not supplant” state and local funding, “those funds are now being dispersed to experimental schools,” and students are being turned over to individuals “we believe can do a good job, but [who have] never received the license and certification” and professional training in education, he said.
“What is amazing about the situation and dilemma districts with heterogeneous student populations faced was that due to poverty, these school districts and or school buildings with over 40% poverty school-wide prior to NCLB would have received these dollars regardless of the academic status of the school,” he said.
This has created a situation in which “an already-stressed population whom we know has a systemic process already designed for them to fail” is taxed the heaviest.
And school officials agree that as long as school populations are determined by neighborhood boundaries — which remain segregated along the lines of race and class — these issues will continue.
“The idea of concentrated poverty is especially important to look at, in terms of communities that are concentrated and segregated,” said California State Board of Education President Michael Kirst, who told an audience at the recent Education Commission of the States National Forum on Education Policy that in California, “Concentrated poverty is at the center of our thinking.”
For its part, Kirst said his agency has made the intentional decision “to have extra money for low-income children, English learners [regardless of family income], and foster care children” and, when individuals are reticent to change, to make them defend the old way of doing things and their intentional exclusion of certain groups of students from the system.
“Separate is never equal when it comes to education funding and race, especially here in Illinois — the land of Lincoln, and the land of Barack Obama, ironically,” Claypool said.