Imagining a More Equitable Future: Rethinking the CPS Budget
Art is a human right! It’s not just a slogan, but a true mission at IPaintMyMind. But, nowhere is access to art more important than in our classrooms. It’s essential that children are encouraged to be creative and expressive at a young age. It makes for self-aware, creative and perceptive citizens of the future. It is also a critical tool for healing from trauma, cultivating resilience, and empowering children from all backgrounds.
Students walk into public schools with a variety of problems at home and psychological trauma. Domestic violence, poverty, homeslessness, gun violence, and all of the other problems that plague our city also affect our students from a very young age. We believe that art can act as a therapeutic tool and a way to encourage self-expression and self-advocacy in times of turmoil for students.
However, we know arts education isn’t a feasible solution to all of these problems. It won’t replace school funding, counselors, nurses, or school supplies and resources. It won’t erase the legacy of racist disinvestment in non-white Chicago neighborhoods, undo police violence and surveillance, or reopen public mental health facilities. These problems are much bigger and more systemic. When facing the brunt of these very real and formidable barriers it can be hard to know which thread to start pulling at.
Why We Must Shift the Funding Model at CPS
As in many other large city public school systems, the way that CPS is managed and run has transformed rapidly. In contrast to a traditional public education model, districts are turning towards something called corporate education reform, or a collection of policies that directly or indirectly work to expedite the commodification of public education. This approach to public schools manifests in creating uniform learning standards, expanding charter schools, launching voucher programs, slashing budgets, reducing job security for teachers, and basing assessments of teachers, schools, and students on standardized testing.
In other words, corporate education reform means running a school system like a business, and looking for easily quantifiable outcomes to measure success off of. The issue with judging school success off of test scores is that schools and students are never on equal footing to begin with. Students come from very different home situations, economic backgrounds, and cultures. Schools are often underfunded, aging, and under-resourced. When uniform standards are applied, it would imply that everyone starts off on equal footing. Without resources, wrap-around services, and a compensatory funding structure, students at low-income, majority black and brown schools are set up to fail.
Although CPS would argue that the inequity in school funding has nothing to do with race, the reality is that race and class are inextricably linked in Chicago. Most of the schools in the city with the highest black student population also have the highest concentrations of poverty and the lowest yearly budgets. On the other side of the coin, wealthy, majority white schools that are already better funded get a boost from massive private fundraising efforts. Private funds secured through parents’ donations widen the gap between schools with wealthier student populations and schools that serve low-income communities.
A Solution is Within Reach
Schools are not businesses. Education is not linear or easy to standardize! It is certainly not a commodity that can be bought and sold. The trend of approaching school management from a corporate perspective is flawed and harmful to our students. In Chicago, it’s what led to the rash of school closings in 2013, disrupting education for thousands of students and driving many out of the district altogether. It’s the philosophy that leads to eternal budget cuts, forcing teachers to pay for their necessary classroom supplies out of pocket.
Luckily, we can identify a clear starting point. We need to fundamentally change the Chicago Public Schools funding model to create true educational equity in our city. We are still using a skewed and racially-discriminatory property tax base funding model which allocates more money to schools located in rich (and white) neighborhoods.
Illinois’s state constitution enshrines the goal of equality in public education within its text. However, CPS students are being denied equality under the law.Every school should receive the same per pupil expenditures to have the same operating budgets. Every student should have the same opportunities available to them. It is also critical that school funding and closure decisions be decoupled from standardized testing scores. (And—no schools should ever be closed, period, but that’s a different article!)
In 2024, we’ll have a partially elected school board for the first time in decades. It’s a small step towards democratic control of the CPS budget, but an important one. Make sure to follow the school board elections and go out to vote!
Changing the decades of racism, disinvestment, and segregation inherent in the financial structure of CPS will be no easy feat. However, with maintained focus and pressure on City Hall, the school board, and CPS officials, activist parents and students are showing that it can be done.
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