Chicago aldermen criticize CPS budget cuts to top-performing schools

Some Chicago City Council members are voicing concerns that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is disproportionately making budget cuts to top-performing schools in favor of increasing funds for under-enrolled neighborhood schools.

Alderman Timmy Knudsen of the 43rd Ward highlighted the impact on LaSalle Language Academy, a magnet school in Old Town, which is set to lose several foreign language instructors under the cuts unveiled by CPS on Tuesday.

"It’s a world language program and it’s a magnet, so it’s serving students citywide," Knudsen said, noting that magnet schools throughout the system are facing similar cuts. "These magnets are gems in the city of Chicago, they’re success stories for CPS, so it’s disappointing and worrisome seeing those being the schools coming under attack in this budget."

Chicago Public Schools unveiled its proposal amid a looming $391 million budget deficit. According to a Chalkbeat analysis, Douglass High School in Austin, with only 35 enrolled students, is slated to receive nine new staff members, bringing its total to 31. Alderman Anthony Beale of the 9th Ward pointed out that two high-performing schools in his South Side ward, Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep and Poe Elementary, had their budgets cut.

"When you’re cutting high-performing schools and then adding nine positions to a school that has 35 students — what are we doing?" Beale asked. "It’s highway robbery. We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Mayor Brandon Johnson defended the push for more funding for neighborhood schools like Douglass.

"Now we have a formula that allows us to address the need for equity," Johnson said at an unrelated news conference. "The board will assess the proposed CPS budget and make a decision that reflects the values that I ran on."

The controversy arises amid concerns that Johnson's handpicked Chicago Public School board plans to phase out selective enrollment schools. Johnson wrote a letter to Illinois Senate President Don Harmon promising not to close or make disproportionate cuts to these schools, in exchange for Harmon sitting on legislation that would protect them. Harmon stands by his decision.

"I've known Brandon Johnson for 20 years," Harmon told Fox 32 Chicago. "I have every reason to trust him and I think this very public promise to support selective enrollments and make them better is a far better path for Chicago’s future."

Alderman Knudsen, however, believes the proposed budgets do not reflect that promise.

"If this is a first step toward getting rid of selective enrollment, this is something we’re going to be pushing back on."