To not only maintain but accelerate students’ growth, Chicago Public Schools will cement its transition from student-based to needs-based budgeting next school year, district officials said Thursday.

Rather than allocating funds to schools based only on the sheer number of students, the district committed to centrally funding what it calls ‘foundation’ roles and programs at every school in CPS in the 2024-25 school year.

That will translate to the district funding before-school and after-school programming, including athletics; administrative staff; a “holistic” set of teachers; counselors; a school clerk; and other operational staff, including custodians and security officers, in every school. According to Chief Budget Officer Mike Zitkowski, the plan also includes professional development and discretionary funding.

Additionally, at schools with a demonstrated need, the district also committed to funding extra teachers to support smaller class sizes and extra counselors as well as tutors, restorative justice coordinators and other staff positions supporting special education students, English learners and students in temporary living situations.

Schools eligible for those dollars will be determined by the CPS Opportunity Index – which takes a school’s percentage of vulnerable students, community characteristics and historical funding into account.

The plan, discussed at Thursday’s Board of Education meeting, was introduced after district leaders heralded CPS students’ recovery from pandemic-era learning loss.

CPS ranked first, among 40 large urban districts, in gains in 3-8 grade students’ reading scores on state standardized tests, from 2019-2023, according to the Education Recovery Scorecard – a recent study by Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research and the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University. The Scorecard also ranked CPS 13th among 43 large urban districts for gains made in math.

The progress was “not accidental,” said Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova, but rather the result of strategic investments made to overcome the pandemic’s negative impact on learning.

Those investments were designed to provide students a high-quality curriculum and extended learning time, such as in after school programs; intensive tutoring; and emotional and behavioral interventions to prevent them from falling behind.

“Our students have made up more than twice as much ground as the state average. That does not happen very often, for us to outpace the entire state,” Chkoumbova said, adding that the trend is inclusive of minority groups that often experience disparities in educational outcomes. Black and Latinx CPS students led improvements in reading, according to the district. “We’re on the right path,” she said.

CPS, the largest school district in Illinois, received $2.9 billion in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, which were provided to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. District officials acknowledged that the cash infusion allowed CPS to make the investments that fueled student gains.

“It shouldn’t take a crisis to get back to these foundational parts of education,” Board Vice President Elizabeth Todd-Breland said, referring to the federal funding. “If you focus on the resources and conditions, the daily learning practices, those strategies, you’ll get the outcomes you want,” she said of student achievement.

With ESSER funds expiring in September, however, CPS faces a $391 million deficit. The shortfall implies that in order to centrally fund ‘foundation’ roles and programs at every school, CPS must make cuts in other areas. But, as the Thursday Board of Education meeting concluded, officials declined to provide more details on budget plans to media.

“Absent any additional, yet-to-be-identified revenue, we have to find a way to close that gap,” Zitkowski said.

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