CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Public Schools officials have proposed a $9.3 billion budget plan for the 2021-22 school year, an increase of nearly $1 billion over last school year, thanks to an infusion of federal funding that will go towards the district’s plan to resume in-person classes full-time in the fall.

The district’s budget proposal dedicates more than $1 billion in federal emergency relief funding to support the “Moving Forward Together” initiative, which is designed to address students’ social and emotional needs, accelerate student learning, and prepare students for success beyond the pandemic.

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CPS officials said the federal dollars from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund will go toward three priority areas: resuming in-person classes full-time in the fall, funding for additional staffing and resources in schools, and addressing the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black and Brown communities.

The federal funding includes:

  • $267 million to support the two-year Moving Forward Together initiative;
  • $132 million to support school opening costs, PPE, cleaning supplies, technology needs, vaccination efforts, and other costs tied to a full return to the classroom;
  • $100 million to support improvements to air quality in schools by renovating and replacing existing mechanical systems;
  • $288 to support various school programs through “equity grants,” special education teachers and paraprofessionals, and the expansion of new academic programs and early childhood classrooms;
  • $178 million for school-based teaching positions;
  • and $95 million for proportionate funding to charter and contract schools.

“With the federal stimulus funds CPS received, we have launched a two-year, $525 million initiative called Moving Forward Together. $267 million of these funds are part of this year’s budget and will fund such initiatives as a CPS tutor corps, which includes hiring and training 850 literacy and math tutors; behavior and mental health teams in every school; upgraded technology to help staff and students access Guideline, our new universal curriculum,” interim CPS Chief Executive Officer Jose Torres said. “In keeping with our commitment to equity, schools that need more will get more.”

“Since no one knows the needs of their school communities better, our principals and school leaders will have the autonomy to use much of these funds in ways that best meets their unique needs of their students and staff and families,” he added.

The district’s budget plan also includes more than $672 million in capital investments to modernize school buildings, by focusing on critical repairs, ADA accessibility, IT infrastructure, and other upgrades.

CPS will allocate more than $328 million for improvements at more than 90 schools — including rebuilding roofs, stabilizing chimneys, replacing fire alarms, and upgrading mechanical systems that control indoor air quality.

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Another $100 million in federal funding for renovations at 17 schools, mostly for mechanical renovations, heating and cooling systems, and electrical and plumbing infrastructure.

Other capital expenses include:

  • $20.5 million to improve ADA accessibility at school buildings;
  • $80 million to complete classroom expansions and conversions to move the district closer to its goal of free full-day pre-k for all 4-year-olds in CPS;
  • $10.5 million for new modern spaces for high-quality academic programs including International Baccalaureate (IB), STEM, Fine Arts, and Dual Language;
  • and $20 million for renovations to existing recreational facilities such as stadiums, athletic fields, and auditoriums.

“We are staying focused on what matters, and that’s providing an equitable high-quality education for every child, regardless of their zip code, race, or country of origin,” CPS interim chief education officer Maurice Swinney said.

The budget proposal for the upcoming school year was the first major announcement for Torres since he took over leadership of the district after former CEO Dr. Janice Jackson stepped down at the end of June, and he said the budget plan was all but done at that point.

“The budget began a year in advance, and part of the process includes obviously lots of community involvement. By the time I arrived, it was pretty much completed, and I did not change anything on the budget,” he said.

The district will hold a series of public hearings on the spending plan and the capital infrastructure plan this month. The Chicago Board of Education is then expected to vote on the budget at its next meeting on July 28.

The Chicago Teachers Union, which represents more than 25,000 teachers and staff at CPS, said the district’s spending plan still does not fairly fund public schools most in need of additional resources, and criticized the district for recently laying off 443 teachers and support staff.

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CTU issued the following statement on the CPS budget plan:

“The mayor, who runs our schools and our city, has access to unprecedented resources for school communities that no Chicago mayor has seen in a generation. CPS must use those funds for the recovery that our students and their families need, and not just from the worst pandemic in a century, but for the problems that the pandemic has exacerbated: housing and income insecurity, racial disinvestment, unaddressed triggers to violence and decades of educational inequity.

“The collective action of our rank-and-file members has forced the mayor and CPS to make investments in positions we won in our 11-day strike in 2019, including more nurses and social workers for long neglected schools. The dogged advocacy of members like disabled school clerk Judy Mahoney and parents across the city has forced some additional investments in critical needs like ADA accommodations. Grassroots groups continue to mobilize and push the mayor for real equity in our schools through the TLC campaign.

“Yet at a time when our schools need progressive transformation the most, and when money is available to honor our students and their families’ sacrifice of the last 16 months, CPS is maintaining its backwards ‘schools below budget’ student-based budgeting formula and failing to equitably fund our schools. CPS’ “Moving Forward Together” plan continues to lack meaningful benchmarks, true stakeholder input, or support for proven programs like ‘Sustainable Community Schools’ — critical elements if we are to truly address students’ and schools’ real needs.

“What students need now is clear: a nurse and a social worker in every school, immediately; developmentally appropriate class sizes; massive and sustained in-school student vaccination programs; and sweeping expansion of sustainable community schools to provide support to students through integrated school-community partnerships. Our schools need HVAC improvements that meet ventilation safety standards that protect us in this new era of airborne viruses. Every one of our students needs a decent, working computer and fast, reliable internet access at school and at home. We need robust support for the 20,000 CPS students experiencing homelessness; reliable high-speed Internet and computers for every student; appropriate and fully resourced special education services and resources, to reverse years of illegal underfunding; and an expansion of elementary school sports and after-school activities.

“This level of investment from the federal government should mark the beginning of ongoing sustainable funding for schools at a much higher level — the level our students and school communities need and deserve. The mayor should be at the forefront of advocating for sustainable school funding, and not just temporary recovery dollars. She has the ability to address all of these needs — and it’s time for her to find the political will to deliver on providing every Chicago student and family with the right to recovery.”

CBS 2 Chicago Staff