Local school councils won a measure of protection in their use of state Chapter 1 funds, under the terms of a recent lawsuit settlement.
Under the settlement, CPS must provide LSCs with annual spending reports for state Chapter 1 funds, a list of supplemental programs the board provides to schools and training in budget planning. State education officials have agreed to create a “complaint office” where citizen inquiries about Chapter 1 spending can be directed.
Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), the advocacy group that sued the board in 1988 alleging $2 billion in misspent poverty money, is claiming victory. “This is a victory for parents and for low-income children,” says Executive Director Julie Woestehoff. “Now their money can be spent more effectively, giving them a better education.”
But others are somewhat less enthusiastic about the outcome. “Lots of sound and fury, but not much results,” says Northwestern University researcher Fred Hess. After 13 years of litigation, the board agreed to make a minor accounting change and train LSCs to do something they should have been training them to do anyway, Hess adds.
LSCs will have an easier time tracking how other councils are spending their Chapter 1 money, Hess notes.
In 1973, the Illinois Legislature created Chapter 1 funds to provide extra money for schools serving low-income students. Lawmakers grant a lump sum amount to each school district, which in turn allocates money to schools on a per-pupil basis. Originally, 60 percent of Chapter 1 money was earmarked for programs for low-income students; the rest could be spent on general operations expenses at central office.
But in 1988, the report by the Chicago Panel on Public School Policy and Finance found that CPS had spent only 43 percent of its 1987-88 Chapter 1 money state funds on programs for low-income children. The report estimated that $42 million had been misspent on central administrative supplies, salaries and other general operations expenses.
PURE teamed up with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund to sue the board shortly after publication of the Panel report.
Just after the lawsuit was filed, state legislators passed a law that would usher in an era of unprecedented local control at Chicago’s public schools. The new law shifted control for spending Chapter 1 funds into the hands of parents, staff and community representatives at each school.
Despite the new law, CPS continued to misspend Chapter 1 money, Woestehoff says. “We fought for 13 years in part to remedy past wrongs,” she says. “CPS still persisted in grabbing the funds to support its overhead and subsidize its basic programs.”
Some schools were forced to pay for assistant principals, school repairs and even report cards out of their Chapter 1 money, noted Woestehoff. Other schools had to pay for librarians or art or music programs that would otherwise be cut, adds Radzilowsky.
Over the years, the case drifted through the courts as CPS argued that the charges should be dismissed. After two trips to the Appellate Court and an Illinois Supreme Court decision in 1997, the case was allowed to continue.
This year, a Cook County judge demanded the two sides reach an agreement and end the case, says Woestehoff. The settlement did not include monetary compensation for PURE or individual schools. But CPS has agreed to hold two four-hour sessions on budget planning for LSCs every year.