CPS needs fed­eral cash or faces cuts, del Valle says

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY NADER ISSA, ED­U­CA­TION REPORTER nissa@sun­times.com | @NaderDIssa

Chicago Pub­lic Schools of­fi­cials on Wed­nes­day opened the door to po­ten­tial mid-year bud­get cuts if hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars of as­sumed fed­eral fund­ing don’t ar­rive this fall.

The school sys­tem has shown strong con­fi­dence Congress will ul­ti­mately agree to a new coro­n­avirus emer­gency re­lief pack­age that in­cludes bil­lions for ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing. District lead­ers have gone as far as in­clud­ing $343 mil­lion of fed­eral dol­lars in the CPS bud­get that was ap­proved Wed­nes­day by the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion.

But with talks in D.C. re­main­ing stalled, it’s a risk to bal­ance a bud­get us­ing mil­lions that aren’t guar­an­teed to be avail­able. Chicago’s lead­ing bud­get watch­dog Tues­day said CPS needs to come up with a backup plan in case fed­eral fund­ing falls through.

CPS has pre­vi­ously sug­gested one-time debt re­lief op­tions could be used if Wash­ing­ton doesn’t dish out re­lief funds. On Wed­nes­day, the tone changed.

“With­out these fed­eral dol­lars that we are as­sum­ing at this point we’re go­ing to get, just like school districts through­out the en­tire coun­try, we will be mak­ing some very, very tough de­ci­sions,” Board Pres­i­dent Miguel del Valle said at the monthly school board meet­ing. “And so I think it’s im­por­tant that ev­ery­one ded­i­cate some time and en­ergy to en­sur­ing that we get that fed­eral re­sponse that ev­ery school district in the coun­try des­per­ately needs at this time.”

Of­fi­cials said CPS will op­er­ate with a neg­a­tive cash flow in the up­com­ing school year.

“If COVID has taught us noth­ing, we are the last part of the so­cial safety net,” board mem­ber El­iz­a­beth Todd-Bre­land said. “Schools are on the front lines of mak­ing sure that young peo­ple and their fam­i­lies and our broader com­mu­ni­ties are OK.

“I’m so proud of the work that the district has done to feed fam­i­lies. That’s a ba­sic pro­vi­sion of so­cial ser­vices that schools are do­ing. And so for the fed­eral govern­ment to be drag­ging their feet on fund­ing these es­sen­tial ser­vices feels un­con­scionable.”

State fund­ing this year re­mained flat be­cause of the pan­demic. CPS re­mains more than 30% un­der­funded based on the state’s own es­ti­mates.

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