school buses parked in Chicago

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) was closed on Wednesday despite the district receiving nearly $2.8 billion in federal COVID funding. The funding was made possible because of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Many students are left wondering, “Where did this money go?”

Poor Budgeting Fuels Cancelling of Classes

According to the Office of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, CPS is the only school district in Illinois that has yet to pass a budget for this academic year. The last budget passed by CPS included deficit spending and loans totaling over $500 million. This led to an announcement by Governor Rauner’s office that CPS would be unable to receive state education funds until they balanced their budgets.

This came as great news for many parents concerned with finding alternative options for their children now that school may be canceled due to a lack of funding. Parents were delighted to know that CPS had received this large sum of federal COVID funds, and it would help get their children back in school.

However, one month later, CPS decided they would not use the nearly $2.8 billion to reopen schools but instead use the funding as a means to plug holes in previous deficit spending accounts. This means that while some schools will be reopening for this new academic year, many others will remain closed due to a lack of funding.

After receiving criticism from parents across Chicago about its decision on what to do with the federal COVID funds, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool stated, “I think [Governor Rauner] is trying to divert attention from his failure.”

In response, Governor Rauner’s office said that CPS failed to plan appropriately for this school year, which caused the problem. This is a stark contract to the State of Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis has vowed to keep schools open despite the surge in Covid-19 cases.

How Is The Money Being Used?

Chicago Public Schools may collect approximately $2.8 billion in federal COVID funding, but they continue to face a deficit spending account crisis. The money is not being used the way it was intended. This has left many Chicago parents frustrated with their local school officials because now students are once again at risk of losing an entire semester worth of learning if CPS places its budget before students’ education.

CPS is now considering plans to utilize those unspent dollars that were meant for rebuilding and recovery efforts, as well as reopening their doors to students, to:
• Build new schools and
• Renovate old infrastructure within their already existing buildings.

CPS officials say this is not an easy endeavor, with many closed school buildings scattered across Chicago. However, CPS has considered which neighborhoods will most likely benefit from the reopening of a school, and that is where they will focus their attention.

CPS has also considered proposals from outside organizations to take on the burden of paying for those renovation projects and building new schools within these low-income neighborhoods.

But CPS does not feel comfortable allowing external entities to control what type of companies or institutions would be allowed to operate in these neighborhoods. CPS says it is vital for them to remain diligent about oversight and accountability amongst all aspects involved in public education.

Nevertheless, CPS officials say that this does not mean they are not open to receiving proposals from other educational institutions.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) feels that it is irresponsible for a public institution such as a public school district to refuse any other private or charter institutions from being included in their efforts to bring a school back to a low-income neighborhood.

CPS Cancelling Classes Due To COVID-19

CTU says that CPS is neglecting those who need a quality education the most and instead, allowing private institutions to have an opportunity would only further segregate those Chicago neighborhoods. With in-person activities being cancelled due to COVID-19’s surge with the Omicron variant, there have been remote classes going on. CPS responded by cancelling classes.

An E-mail sent to parents of CPS students on Friday by Mark Grishaber read that, “Given the staffing levels expected on Monday, 1/10/2022, there will be no regular classes for students. The in-person activities will not be able to take place because of the limited opportunities available. Our main objective is to be able to welcome all our students back to the institution as soon as possible.”