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CPS budget cheats kids with severe disabilities, advocacy group says

Updated: August 27, 2013 7:30PM

Chicago Public Schools’ new “student-based” budgeting shortchanges kids with severe disabilities who need additional resources, an advocacy organization for people with disabilities said Tuesday.

The group, Access Living, also condemned CPS’ practice of “corralling” students into cluster programs for disabled children in schools with extra classrooms which in turn led to closing many schools with these programs for being under capacity.

Rod Estvan, Access Living’s education policy analyst, expects to present the group’s annual analysis Wednesday to the Board of Education, which is slated to approve CPS’ 2014 $6.6 billion budget. The budget closes what the district estimates as a $1 billion gap by cutting classroom spending by a net $68 million and raises property taxes to the maximum allowed.

The district adopted “student-based” budgeting this year, allotting a fixed amount of money per student enrolled at a school, instead of allocating a set number of positions to the school. Principals then decide how to spend the money on staff and programs, which CPS says affords them greater autonomy over their school communities, though many principals and Local School Councils say it sticks schools with less money overall and principals with tough layoff decisions.

According to Estvan, who wrote the report, the new way of budgeting doesn’t weigh students’ educational needs and allocate more money for children with more severe disabilities. Instead, the budget “provides total less resources for them,” he wrote.

Access Living joined the Civic Federation, which just released its own critical analysis of CPS’ budget, in calling on the district “to provide greater transparency for millions of dollars being provided to charter schools,” questioning the 25 percent increase in spending — or what Estvan described as an “astounding” $10 million increase — for special education in charters though the budget does not reveal how many certified special education teachers work in charters.

“We’re giving them equal payment, but they’re not taking as severely (disabled) kids and creating programs for them at those schools at this time,” Estvan said, “and CPS isn’t requiring them to do so.”

CPS did not make any senior staffers available Tuesday to discuss the findings. Instead a district spokeswoman emailed a statement Tuesday evening CPS contesting them.

“Through Student Based Budgeting, diverse learning students’ general education needs are more fairly and equitably funded than under the old quota model,” CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said in a statement.

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