I don’t think Team Emanuel has a plan for getting Chicago Public Schools on its feet. Call it a hunch, because I don’t have anyone on the record to say that’s the case. But we have watched two years of hemming and hawing from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration about funding CPS operations, and not much has changed in that time.
Last May we learned that the district would only have $24 million on hand at the end of their fiscal year, June 30, and that the schools would start their year with a $1.1 billion deficit. The solution involved a series of cuts, including to classroom services, some borrowing, and some money from the state. But then the state backed out of part of its funding package, due to a veto from Gov. Bruce Rauner, so CPS borrowed more money and made more cuts.
And still, CPS didn’t address its structural deficit problem, which after 2017’s cuts, is well over $500 million, maybe closer to $1 billion, analysts tell me. CPS also hasn’t come up with a solution to pay down its significant debt, which this month will rise to $8.1 billion. That’s more than 50% larger than the district’s $5.4 billion annual budget.
If you’re a Daily Line regular, you’ve read all of this before. I’m sorry for subjecting you to a repeat. But the details are just so mind blowing, it’s worth a reminder. (Also, another plug to our recent podcast episode: The CPS Funding Saga. It’s essentially an audio history of the rhetoric on CPS by the administration over the past three years and the confusion it has created among aldermen who are essentially kept in the dark.)
As Chicago’s schools lurched through its budget crisis, we’ve heard three solutions from Team Emanuel: borrow, make incremental cuts, and hope Springfield will give us some money.
The close of Springfield’s Spring Session without a budget deal (for the third year in a row!) should make it pretty clear: We’re not going to see anything from the state anytime soon. And then, Gov. Bruce Rauner really put the nail in the coffin Thursday when he told the Sun-Times he wouldn’t support and education funding bill that included $300 million for CPS. “The amendment on there really amounts to an unfair-to-Illinois-taxpayers bailout of CPS,” he said.
We know now: Rauner is committed to his plan of freezing property taxes, and other aspects of his Turnaround Agenda, and he’ll hold the budget hostage until he gets it or is voted out of office. As a result, we may not see a state budget or state money for CPS until after the November 2018 elections.
So what’s Team Emanuel’s solution?
Except for a promise to start school on time next September, we don’t know. Last week, before the Spring Session ended, Emanuel told reporters, “If you think in the final seven days I’m going to tell Springfield everything I’m going to do while they’re negotiating an education budget, you’ve got to get yourself another negotiator. That’d be the dumbest thing you can do.”
But now session’s over, and we still don’t have a solution.
Back in April, aldermen who saw the writing on the wall–that the city is going to have to raise taxes and then make payments to CPS to keep it going–but were rebuffed by Team Emanuel for a briefing, started coming up with their own funding solutions. Some of the solutions, like a head tax and raiding unused Tax Increment Financing funds have majority support in Council. But unless Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke (14) calls a vote (which he won’t without the mayor’s say-so) the ideas will never see daylight.
Then last week, members of the Progressive Caucus filed an order demanding outgoing Budget Director Alex Holt, CFO Carole Brown, and Treasurer Kurt Summers open up the books and show how much the city has in its TIF, Rainy Day, and investment holdings.
Not a peep from Team Emanuel in response.
When I spoke to Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey last month, he said he can’t take Mayor Emanuel seriously until he “commit[s] to raising half a billion dollars for the schools,” through local tax increases. The idea seemed shocking and radical to me at the time, but now, just a month later, I’m beginning to think it’s maybe the only solution available.