In advance of Chicago Public School principals receiving their school budgets today, the Council Education Committee held a lengthy three-hour hearing on Friday to discuss why Chicago Public Schools is in its current financial dilemma and to urge Chicago legislators to push through bigger state appropriations for CPS.

Committee Members Present: Chairman Will Burns (4), Vice Chair Michele Smith (43), Ald. Pat Dowell (3), Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza (10), Ald. Raymond Lopez (15), Ald. Matt O’Shea (19), Ald. Danny Solis (25), Ald. Scott Waguespack (32), Ald. Nick Sposato (38), Ald. Pat O’Connor (40), Ald. Harry Osterman (48), Ald. Joe Moore (49).

Others Attending: Ald. Milly Santiago (31), Acting CPS CEO Jesse Ruiz, CPS CFO Ginger Ostro, Executive Director of Advance Illinois Robin Steans, State Sen. Andy Manar, State Rep. Christian Mitchell, State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, Chicago Teacher’s Union Political Director Stacy Davis Gates.

State lawmakers, Chicago Public School officials, education advocates, representatives from the Chicago Teachers Union, and aldermen convened Friday morning in the Council Chambers to hear testimony on the state of state education funding and how CPS is likely to be impacted this upcoming school year.

The lengthy hearing hosted by the City Council’s Committee on Education, chaired by Ald. Will Burns (4), was partially an attempt to debrief aldermen on the financial issues facing CPS and partially a call for aldermen to help state legislators lobby for a bill, Senate Bill 1, that would amend a decades old state formula used to allocate public school funding across the state.

Illinois’ current funding formula is outdated and inequitable, according to the testimony from Robin Steans, the executive director of Advance Illinois, and the bill’s sponsor, State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill).

Illinois only provides an average of 25% of operating expenses  to local school districts, compared to the national average of 50%, says Steans. SB1, or The School Funding Reform Act of 2015, is an updated version of last year’s Senate Bill 16, a proposal to replace the Illinois General State Aid Formula. It was designed to change the funding formula to benefit districts with lower income and higher need students. While it passed in the Senate, it never made it to the House for a vote because of concerns that it created winners and losers. SB1 amended the language of SB16 to address those concerns with the primary goal to create a single, need-based funding formula that prioritizes districts that have a higher concentration of students from poverty, English as a second language, and children with disabilities.

“It’s time for use to put an end to the current formula and put in place a new formula that recognizes the needs that we have in the state today,” State Sen. Manar told members of the City Council’s Education Committee, noting that CPS would benefit from additional aid under the revision.

State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago) echoed the sentiments of those who testified before him that “equal and adequate money is the civil rights issue of our time” and assured aldermen that they have the votes to get the bill through Springfield. Rep. Mitchell added that the CPS’ current financial crisis coupled with a governor who has promised to “fully fund education” puts state lawmakers in a position to create a “political coalition to get this done.”

“I think Chicago Public Schools made some difficult choices and there are more to be made,” State Rep. Mitchell warned. “If we don’t have a sustainable education funding solution, it gets worse and worse for Chicago every year.”

When it came time for Acting CPS CEO Jesse Ruiz and CPS CFO Ginger Ostro to testify before the committee, they concurred with the state lawmakers saying state underfunding is what put Chicago public schools in their current financial mess.

CPS is expected to receive $56 million dollars less in state funding this year compared to last year, Ruiz noted. Since 2011, CPS has cut $740 million dollars in spending, mainly from administration and operations, to make up for the funding gap, Ruiz added, noting the most recent plan he and Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveiled last week to make additional cuts to address the $1.1 billion dollar funding gap CPS faces when school resumes in the fall.

“The one place left to make real cuts is the classroom,” he warned. “We cannot deliver on our promise of a high quality education if we are asked to compensate for the state’s embarrassingly low funding level for education.”

CFO Ostro then piled on the data. Chicago has double the number of low income students than any other district in the state and four times the number of english language learners, Ostro said. She added that for the past four years, CPS has had to use reserves to make up for the lack of revenue coming in from the state.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40) questioned whether CPS was doing all it could to lobby for better funding in Springfield. Ruiz said it was, but Ald. O’Connor was unsatisfied with the answer and asked Ruiz three times why CPS was having such a difficult time getting “sympathetic” legislation through both houses. “What legislators do you work with? Do you have a team of people to push our stuff?” Ald. O’Connor pressed for specifics. “You are in a better position to push this out than an alderman does.”

O’Connor wasn’t the only alderman in the chambers to pepper Ruiz and Ostro with accusatory questions about CPS funding, especially as it relates to per pupil funding and how local schools will be impacted this fall.

Ostro said she couldn’t give specific numbers because the budgets hadn’t even been given to the principles yet.

Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Curry (D-Chicago) then told aldermen that if Chicago wanted more money for schools, they shouldn’t wait on Springfield to address a problem it could take care of on its own. She pointed to the fact that several downstate districts have increased property taxes through referendum.

Chicago Teacher’s Union Political Director Stacy Davis Gates liked that idea, noting that teachers and administrators are tired of cuts, tired of layoffs and tired of not having enough resources in the classroom. “It’s a revenue issue,” Gates said.