The reason I am a professional educator is I believe in the power of education. Neither of my parents graduated from to college, but they sent me to great public schools. I received an excellent education that allowed me – in my later years – to earn a graduate degree from Harvard. I owe my success to my parents, teachers, and all those people that invested in public education. For that reason, I believe all students should have equal access to free high quality schooling that prepares them for college and their careers.
With the recent hire of three hourly workers for our Early Childhood Center and a new teacher for kindergarten and 2nd grade, I am proud that Hitch is making this a reality for students in the 45th ward. We’re creatively using scare resources to reduce class sizes and do what is best for students. While I am pleased that Hitch received a $223,100 budget increase on the 10th day of school, this increase is not nearly enough to address our long-term budgetary needs.
Too often, I see inequitable funding towards education as a major hurdle between students and academic success. For instance, this summer, Hitch’s budget was drastically cut, and per pupil dollars did not increase from FY 14 to FY 15. The result of this was large kindergarten and 2nd grade class sizes, not to mention large class sizes in the upper grades. Thankfully, we have addressed this concern in primary grades, yet other budgetary issues remain.
Overcrowding at Hitch is no longer an issue of space. With the support from the overcrowding committee, the LSC, administrators, teachers, and the Alderman, Hitch received eight new classrooms in our modular, which relieved overcrowding related to space. That being said, overcrowding has now become a matter of per pupil dollars.
Over 99% of Hitch’s annual budget pays for staff salaries and benefits. That leaves less than 1% to pay for all the other necessities for our school to run: equipment, supplies, curriculum materials, computers, copiers, etc. As you can imagine, that is nowhere near enough money to pay for all our student’s needs. For that reason, we rely on student fees to supplement our budget and pay for the vast majority of instructional materials.
Although our community is generous and supports our school by paying fees, I am deeply disappointed that we must rely on our families and the PTA to pay for the basics. I recently spoke with a family that moved from out of state, and they were surprised that a public school asks for families to pay for school fees. I must admit that I am surprised too. I have worked in Memphis City Schools, Boston Public Schools, and in Charlotte, North Carolina. In my experience, it is not common for public schools in other states to pay for instructional materials with school fees.
Ultimately, CPS needs to increase the amount of dollars schools receive per pupil. Hitch currently receives approximately $4,500 per pupil enrolled, which is simply nowhere near enough to pay for even our basic necessities.
Arguably one of the biggest hurdle that prevents CPS from increasing per pupil spending is the inequitable state teacher pension plan. Springfield pays teacher pensions for every other district in the state, except Chicago. In terms of per pupil dollars, that means the state only pays $31 per pupil towards pensions benefits in CPS, while it pays $2,266 per pupil for every other district in the state. That’s a difference of $2,235 per pupil. If Hitch saw a fraction of that difference, we could have enough money to afford more teachers, have class sizes of 22-26 in all grades, and pay for instructional materials without the aid of school fees.
In a very real way, Hitch is facing the realities of an unfair state education-funding plan. I acknowledge there are other issues related to the financial state of CPS; nevertheless, those issues do not relieve the state of their duty to equitably fund all schools in Illinois.
My job is to manage the day-to-day operations of the school. Every day, I see the impact Hitch students and teachers face because of this inequality. Our situation is not unique. Many principals I speak with are in the same financial position as Hitch.
As residents of the city of Chicago, our taxes are paying for teacher pensions twice. We are paying for pensions for teachers outside of Chicago via state taxes, and we are paying for Chicago teachers’ pensions via property taxes. No other district in Illinois does this. It is an unjust plan that takes money out of Chicago Public Schools.
I have personally spoken with our local state representative to address this funding gap in CPS, and I invite Hitch parents to contact state representatives to encourage Springfield to create a fair teacher pension plan. Springfield should pay for Chicago Teachers’ pensions just like they do for every other district in Illinois.
Hitch Families State Representatives:
Robert Martwick State Representative 773-286-1115
John Mulroe State Senator 773-763-3810
Mike Quigley US Representative 773-267-5926
Please join me in appealing to the state for a fair plan to fund education in all parts of Illinois.