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Supporters, critics react to Chicagos mayor lobbying state legislators

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(The Center Square) – Despite 12 consecutive years of decreased enrollment at Chicago Public Schools, Mayor Brandon Johnson is looking for more state taxpayer money. Some are questioning Johnson’s insistence that enrollment is “stabilizing.”

Hal Woods, Kids First Chicago chief of policy, said CPS experienced an enrollment increase this year because of the migrant children enrolling at CPS.

“This question of stability is interesting. We can see from CPS’s own data that really the reason why CPS’ enrollment is up is because of newcomers, migrants and asylum seekers,” said Woods. “CPS’s kindergarten enrollment went down this year. What you saw is that [increased] enrollment happened at all different grade levels, that’s because people were coming from Latin America and other places and they were enrolling their kids once they got to Chicago.”

Johnson has issued shelter evictions but migrants who enroll their children in CPS get to stay longer, Woods said. Chicago has been experiencing a migrant crisis where busloads of migrants from the southern U.S. border are regularly dropped off in the city.

“But we have no idea if [migrant] families are going to be staying at CPS beyond this current school year,” said Woods.

Birth rates are a contributing factor to enrollment declining at CPS, he said.

“Why has Chicago Public School enrollment declined? It’s a reduction of school-aged children,” said Woods. “We had about 43,000 babies being born in 2009, and we’re at 28,000 in 2021. We continue to see a decline in the number of Black students enrolled in CPS. CPS enrollment data shows a -1.8% decline (about 2,100 students) from last school year to this school year.”

More recently, CPS estimates that between 9,000 and 17,000 migrant students have enrolled since August 2022.

State Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, attributed CPS’s declining enrollment to the outmigration crisis the state is facing.

“Their [CPS] enrollment is declining because the population in Cook County is declining because of the crime, the bad schools and the lack of opportunity. Businesses are leaving,” said Caulkins. “Office occupancy is down in Chicago. People are practically giving property away in Chicago to get out from under the property tax burden. Chicago is imploding.”

Caulkins said that CPS shouldn’t be getting more money considering their woeful proficiency rates in reading and math.

“Johnson was here asking for $100 million+ and the Chicago Public Schools have asked for $50 billion. They are asking for $50 billion from the state of Illinois to prop up the school district in Chicago,” said Caulkins. “I don’t think the people in our districts really care to do that, not when students can’t meet reading and math proficiencies.”

The Chicago Teachers Union is negotiating a new contract with CPS and CTU is reportedly calling for an extra $50 billion to pay for wage hikes as well as fully paid abortions for its members and new migrant services and facilities.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently released a memo detailing how there’s an $800 million revenue shortfall in the 2025 budget. Lawmakers in the Freedom Caucus suggested the governor stop spending on education for illegal immigrants and to “cut the pork” out of the budget. Pritzker warned state agencies they will have to prioritize spending.

Woods explained the state needs to provide adequate funding to meet the students’ needs. The organization endorsed evidence-based funding when then-Gov. Bruce Rauner signed it into law. Woods said when the state government approved EBF, they made a commitment to fully fund all districts by 2027. Right now, Woods said $1.1 billion is needed to address underfunded CPS.

“I think what the mayor and CPS has been saying is, ‘look, we are losing COVID-relief dollars and we’re a chronically underfunded school district … and there’s not a lot of places where CPS can eliminate its budget deficit,’” said Woods. “A lot of money is in people and a lot of money is in people who are based at schools, and rather than having to go through school cuts … can we accelerate the pace of funding from the state to be able to ensure we don’t have to make tough decisions at the school level?”

CPS’s per-pupil operational spending is $24,132, up more than 50% from $15,878 in 2018, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.