To analyze the equity of funding among Chicago’s public schools, Catalyst adapted an online tool created by researchers affiliated with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

Through research, the Annenberg initiative had determined that most districts do not distribute funds equitably among schools, and are unaware of those inequities because of complex funding formulas and accounting practices that make them difficult to assess.

The tool was created to help school districts and others identify sources of inequity by using their own data. The tool calculates the average base-level amount of money spent per child, and then the average amounts spent per child for every category of data entered, such as bilingual funds and federal and state poverty funds.

In Chicago, we found the district base-level spending for elementary schools was $3,149 per pupil; in high schools, $3,746 per student. Per-pupil benchmarks for other categories were:

$1,081 for elementary poverty funds; $995 in high schools

$639 for elementary bilingual education; $832 in high schools

$622 for vocational education, which applies only to high schools.

Using these figures, the tool calculates the total amount of money that would be allocated to schools under per-pupil budgeting, and then compares that amount to the schools’ actual budgets. When the comparison is a one-for-one, indicated by a score of 1, the school is considered to be funded equitably. Scores above 1 would occur when a school’s actual budget is higher than the tool’s per-pupil amount—a sign that the school is getting more than its “fair” share. The inverse would be true for schools scoring below 1—the school’s actual dollars are below the per pupil amount, signifying it was underfunded.

Catalyst analyzed four categories of spending—base-level allocation, poverty, bilingual, vocational education—which comprise 43 percent of the district’s $4 billion operating budget or 68 percent of the money that CPS allocates directly to schools. Lack of transparency in the existing CPS budget and accounting practices made it necessary to remove more than $1.1 billion in appropriations for special education, preschool, building and lunchroom operations and student transportation.

The results of the analysis show Caldwell Elementary in Avalon Park is the most equitably funded school in the district, missing a perfect score of 1 by $36. By contrast, Hale Elementary in Roseland was found to be somewhat underfunded, scoring just under the low end of the 0.9 to 1.1 equity zone. Clark Elementary in Austin is slightly overfunded at just over 1.1.

For this analysis, Catalyst examined budgets from 537 of the district’s 613 schools. The following schools were not included in this study: charter and contract schools, alternative schools, designated special education schools, achievement academies, child parent centers, and new and recently closed schools.

To contact John Myers, call (312) 673-3874 or send an e-mail to

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