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Without More Money, Chicago Schools May Not Reopen

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Chicago's schools won't open in the fall if the district doesn't get additional state funding, CEO Forrest Claypool said last week.

In an interview with Education Week in April, Claypool painted a dark picture of what the schools could look like if the state did not step up with more money: larger class sizes, fewer programs, and lost jobs.

School officials said then that they faced a severe cash crunch and would end the year with enough operating money on hand for two days. (The standard is 90.)

But at that time, Claypool stopped short of saying that schools in the nation's third-largest district might not open.

With the Illinois fiscal year ending last week without a budget—including a separate education spending plan—Claypool told the Chicago Tribune: "Chicago schools would not open, and I suspect most of the schools in the state would not open."

A survey conducted last month by the Illinois Association of School Administrators found that schools across the state, on average, could stay open for five months without state funding. The length varied, with some respondents indicating they could only make it two or three months and others longer, said Mike Chamness, an IASA spokesman.

Even though they could open, Chamness emphasized the consequences would still be devastating. "If you spend all your reserves to stay open for five months, those reserves would not be replenished, and at that point in time, you would have no safety net whatsoever," he said. Chicago, meanwhile, has been mounting a no-holds-barred campaign to boost state education funding for the city's schools.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, had proposed his own education plan that would have increased state education funding by $55 million. But district officials did not like Rauner's plan, saying that it would still cut the city's school funding by $74 million.

The district faces a $1 billion budget deficit this coming year. With a series of credit downgrades, it may not be able to borrow more money at sustainable interest rates. Earlier this year, the district sold $725 million in bonds at a very high yield, 8.5 percent.

"We found the last investor willing to buy subjunk credit from us," Claypool said. "We finally have to balance the budget. We can borrow no longer; we can defer no longer; we can kick the can no longer."

Vol. 35, Issue 34, Page 4

Published in Print: June 8, 2016, as Without More Money, Chicago Schools May Not Reopen
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