Research Rationale

Ten years ago, three nonprofit organizations were analyzing the Chicago Public Schools’ budget from varying perspectives. Today, there is only one, the Civic Federation, whose main concern is efficiency and keeping taxes down. Meanwhile, equity of funding within school districts has grown as an issue, in part because of the new push for school accountability.

It is against this backdrop that Catalyst Chicago decided to get into the budget analysis business. As a publication whose mission is to shed light on the policies and practices that help or hinder school improvement, we have long wanted to do that, but last year we received funding from The Woods Fund of Chicago for the extra staff and training needed.

Meanwhile, administrators in the Chicago Public Schools have vowed to provide more transparency and ensure equity in the distribution of dollars, prompted in part by its desire to end a 25-year-old desegregation consent decree. For the first time last year, for instance, CPS conducted its own analysis of school level spending by race. Since then, it has embarked on a process to allocate citywide and administrative costs to schools in an effort to figure out how much it costs to educate a child here.

With this report, Catalyst has taken a first crack at doing such an analysis, indicating what the impact of student-based budgeting could be on individual schools and on certain groups or types of schools. Our goal is to explain what the district has undertaken, why it is important and how it may affect schools and their students.

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