Footnote Credit: Illustration by Kurt Mitchell

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Aug. 6: School aid

Gov. Rod Blagojevich directs the Illinois Finance Authority to make $175 million in no-interest loans available to school districts if lawmakers don’t come up with a budget, now almost six weeks late. Money would be allocated based on the state aid a district received last year. Meanwhile, CPS releases a $5.8 billion budget that includes an expected $98 million in state aid, and legislative leaders continue to debate expanded gambling—specifically, a land-based casino in Chicago—to provide more money for schools.

Aug 7: Union pacts

Six unions representing 8,000 non-teaching employees, from custodians to special education aides, reach a new agreement with CPS for raises totaling 15.75 percent over five years. The annual raises are in line with the 3 percent raise for teachers that CPS included in its $5.8 billion budget for 2008. CPS is still negotiating with the Chicago Teachers Union, which received 4 percent raises in the last round of negotiations for the current contract. The labor agreement puts pressure on the CTU to reach a settlement.

Aug. 8: Freshman help

Citing the need for “a laser-like focus” to keep freshmen from eventually dropping out, CEO Arne Duncan and Mayor Richard Daley announce a new program to get them into school by making personal connections. Counselors and other school staff will call and make home visits to help them prepare for the first day of school and principals will prepare transition plans for incoming 9th-graders. Freshmen’s grades will be checked after the first three weeks of school; students who are struggling will get extra help.

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Colorado: Diploma options

High school students would be able to choose one of three options for their education under a proposal from Gov. Bill Ritter, according to the Aug. 6 Denver Post. College-bound students could choose to aim for a so-called “governor’s diploma,” while those wanting to enter the workforce could opt to receive a diploma with a “workforce-ready” distinction or a trade certificate, such as in plumbing or mechanics. A task force will consider the proposal as it studies ways to reform education.

Texas: Teacher bonuses

Fewer than half of the 1,150 schools that received bonuses during the first year of the state’s new $100 million performance-pay plan will be eligible again this school year, according to the Aug. 6 Dallas Morning News. Most of the schools failed to maintain their performance ratings as the standards for passing state tests rose. Teachers received bonuses of $3,000 to $10,000. Critics say it will be difficult to determine the program’s effectiveness if eligibility changes significantly from year to year. Earlier this year, the Texas House voted to scrap the plan and use the money to raise teacher salaries across the board, but negotiations with the Senate led to the program’s restoration. Some eligible schools turned down the grants because of teachers’ opposition.

Tennessee: School takeovers

Seventeen struggling Memphis schools will have a 30-minute longer school day and must come up with a merit-pay plan as a result of a state takeover, according to the Aug. 1 Memphis Commercial Appeal. The schools failed to meet state standards for the past six years. The district must consult with the state before changing principals, and the superintendent must designate a new manager solely to monitor performance at the schools.

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“You have to start thinking it right now: College.”

Peggy Korellis, principal of new Team Englewood High, on the importance of focusing on college readiness as early as 9th grade. Korellis spoke at freshman orientation on Aug. 14, held at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

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Does school funding vary by size, location and type of school, such as magnet, classical or gifted?

Conswaila Syndor-Davis, Murray Language Academy

Funding is not based on a school’s location or size. But other factors do come into play, says Jeff Donoghue, a finance analyst for the Office of Management and Budget. The district’s staffing formula uses enrollment, class size limits and caseloads (such as those for social workers) to determine how many teachers and auxiliary staff a school is entitled to. A school with 30 veteran teachers, for instance, would receive more money than a school with the same number of less-experienced teachers, because veteran teachers earn more. Magnet, classical and gifted schools do get more cash to pay for special programs, Donoghue says. A language school like Murray, for instance, gets extra money to pay for foreign language teachers. To see a specific school’s funding, go to the budget page of the CPS website and click on “School Segment Reports.”

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A report from the Food Research and Action Center found that CPS would reap an additional $25 million in federal funding if it increased the percentage of students who get a free breakfast. Nearly 80% of CPS students qualify for free or reduced-priced meals, but just 29% of those who get a free lunch also take a free breakfast. CPS would gain the additional federal funds if it increased participation to 70%. The federal government pays the district $1.27 for each free breakfast served, $0.97 for each reduced-price breakfast served and an additional $0.24 for each breakfast served at those schools where at least 40% of students qualify for subsidized meals.

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