By: Alexia Herrera and Victoria Gonzalez
With many people comparing Trump Administration Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to Harry Potter’s villainous Professor Umbridge for her suggested cuts to the educational budget, Chicago finds itself as part of a large-scale conversation regarding public education and funding in the United States.
Chicago Public Schools has a long history of disaffection when it comes to adhering to the needs and demands of teachers, students, and its general public, with big community names like Chance The Rapper (who recently donated $2 million to CPS) speaking up about issues he has with CPS and its budget cuts and closings.
In recent years, it was poor relations between CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), when in 2015 CPS announced it would not support a one-year extension to the deal they had settled on after the CTU’s seven-day strike back in 2012, which resulted in another possible strike looming, but never actualized that year once both parties came to an agreement.
Although the CTU and CPS are currently working with an agreed upon contract, teacher sentiments and concerns are still relevant and consistent.
“I currently have a 32 students to 1 teacher ratio in my classroom,” said Marta Ramirez, who teaches 7th grade english at Hamline Elementary school in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the South Side. It’s one of the schools affected by the city’s public school budget crisis.
“Some of these students are not receiving the attention that they need and as hard as I try, I cannot give 32 students at a time the individual help that they need to succeed.”
Ramirez values her students’ time and education, but like many other teachers, she said she feels the district does not value herself or the students as much as they should. Budget cuts are affecting Ramirez and her classroom through limited access to resources — not having the right textbooks, large classroom sizes, or enough teachers to support the large student body in general.
The cutbacks are apparent (see infographic) in the annual budget. South Side school Pilsen Academy dropped from $4 million in 2017 to $3.4 million in 2018.
“It’s just not fair to the students, that their peers on the North Side are getting the education and resources they need but somehow my students are deemed undeserving,” said Ramirez, adding that she believes that equally sharing the CPS budget between the North Side and South Side could help provide under supported students with the materials and attention that they need.
The stark differences in funding between the North and South side public schools is blatant, especially when you compare funding for the equipment expenses. As you can see in the infographic, the budget for equipment expenses at Northside College Prep is $109 thousand while Pilsen Community School receives only $50 thousand.
There are also various nonprofits attempting to fight the systematic inequalities of CPS funding. Kenwood Oakland Community Organization [KOCO] is one of many nonprofits that fight for justice.
“An Englewood school was going to close until KOCO pushed and fought until the city budget found $34 million,” said Jawanza Malone, the executive director for KOCO.
Malone finds that students in South Side neighborhoods like Englewood and South Shore are not receiving the same funding that schools on the Northside are unless organizations like KOCO call them out and hold them accountable for their actions.
When asked about the effect of funding on students resources, Malone said, “Students can’t take books home, how can they get educated if they can’t bring their education back home?”
KOCO is a testament to the fact that equal educational funding is not always a given on the south side. The sentiment is shared by Chance the Rapper in the same interview, where he believes that if the city wants to see real change, then neighborhoods need to unite, “It starts on my neighborhood, my ward, my block…It starts with block club presidents. It starts with starting a block club. But all those levels are accessible, you know?” It is clear to see by the google my maps graphic that these demands are necessary because the south side has plenty of Chicago Public Schools, that deserve better funding and an overall improved budget plan.
By analyzing CPS’s budget data, it is evident that there is a serious funding disparity taking place among Chicago Public Schools. The numbers are further supported by the viewpoints and experiences of south side CPS teachers and students. Maricel Ortega from Theodore Roosevelt High School, who’s art program was affected by the lack of funding recalls,
“There was a music program that I was supposed to be a part of and learn how to play the drums and they were about to start but they didn’t have enough funding to go through with it. A lot of books also needed updating.”