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Special Education advocacy group — Access Living — does most thorough budget analysis for FY 2009 CPS budget

As late as June 2006, a half dozen groups and individuals could be counted on in Chicago to spend some time doing a comprehensive — or partial — analysis of the Chicago Board of Education’s annual budget.

At that time, the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform and the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group were still in operation. Both provided the public with detailed analyses of the Board of Education’s annual Proposed Budget, along with critical analysis of problems that they identified. School reform groups, including PURE and Designs for Change, responded to proposed cuts in the budget by providing an analysis for the public. At the time, I was working as Director of Research for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, and we presented our first critical analysis of the budget as well.

SEIU was developing a strategic approach to the budget at that time. Although the Chicago Teachers Union leadership under Marilyn Stewart refused to participate in the budget analysis process, teachers from a number of schools and groups (including Pro-Active Chicago Teachers and School Workers, the caucus of Deborah Lynch) provided testimony at the June 2006 budget hearings. Budget testimony was also provided by individual teachers, such as Senn High School union delegate Jesse Sharkey.

In 2007, the Chicago Board of Education began ignoring the statutory requirement that its proposed budget be presented to the public in June, and that public hearings be held prior to the beginning of the Board of Education’s fiscal year, which is July 1 of each year. Having gotten away with that violation of the law in 2007, the Board repeated the practice this year, releasing the Proposed Budget in August, after a media event presided over by Mayor Richard M. Daley at City Hall at the end of July.

The August 2008 budget hearings were the most sparsely attended in several years. Most of those in attendance, as noted by Beth Swanson, the Board’s budget chief, were teachers. No mention was made by any member of the Board of Education that for the second year in a row, the Board had acted illegally by not holding its hearings in June and discussing its budget at its June meeting.

Meanwhile, many of the budget critics have been sidelined or wiped out. Both the Cross City Campaign and the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group were de-funded by Chicago’s corporations in early 2007. PURE and Designs for Change have chosen not to do a detailed budget analysis. Substance has been in transition, with our resources during the summer of 2008 devoted to upgrading our Web presence. The results of the Substance work during the summer of 2008 can be seen at www.substancenews.net.

Only two groups presented the Board and the public with detailed analyses of the Board’s Proposed Budget prior to the Board’s August 27, 2008 to approve the budget as proposed and presented. These groups were the Civic Federation and Access Living.

Although the analysis by Access Living focuses primarily on special education services (which is the mission of Access Living), the Access Living budget analysis is more broadly rendered, as is necessary for any group of individual that attempts to advocate for a particular position within the massive CPS budget. Traditionally, the answer from school officials to groups that propose a change in priorities in the budget is that they should go to Springfield, the Illinois State Capitol, and ask that the Illinois General Assembly and the Governor get more money to Chicago’s public schools.

But a critical analysis of the budget as it exists is also possible and necessary. Even within a budget that might receive addition funding if adjustments were made to school funding in Illinois, there is reason for the public to analyze and question priorities. In the new CPS budget, for example, CPS has budgeted nearly $50 million for “strategic initiatives” that have received no critical public review. These include “High School Transformation” and “Turnaround” — both of which are enormously controversial. These two programs, which will have a major impact on the city’s dwindling number of general high schools, will cost the public more than $20 million in the coming school year.

Dozens of other examples could be given of why there is a greater need now than ever for independent and critical analyses of the CPS budget, both at the time of the annual budget reviews and at other times.

For this issue of Substance, we are reprinting here the detailed analysis provided by Access Living Chicago and presented both at the budget hearings (August 12, 2008) and at the Board of Education meeting (August 27, 2008) to the Board’s budget staff and the Board members themselves. The analysis was done by Rodney Estvan of Access Living. Additional information can be found at www.accessliving.org. 



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