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Aug.1: Budget critique

Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform releases a report criticizing the district’s 2007 budget, saying its staffing cuts and projections are “unsubstantiated.” The group also accused CPS of funneling money away from the poorest schools to schools with few low-income students. CPS counters that its $4.7 billion budget is transparent and says that central office is using more poverty money for summer school and reading and math programs at schools on probation.

Aug. 11: Transfers

Students from recently closed schools will get first priority for 500 open slots in 97 of the city’s top-performing schools. In all, 8,200 students are eligible for the spots under the No Child Left Behind law, which allows transfers from under-performing schools. CEO Arne Duncan initially wanted to give the spots to children from three schools closed in June, but the federal government vetoed the idea. Homeless students and students held back are also eligible.

Aug. 16: No charter

Global Alliance Preparatory Charter, slated to open this fall in Englewood, is rejected. The School Board rules that its proposed site, a former Catholic school, cannot be renovated and made safe in time for the opening of school. Officials from the charter, which had recruited 225 students and 21 teachers, said two other sites offered by the board were not suitable. The board also approved the charter for an online school, which still must win approval from the Illinois State Board of Education.

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Indiana: New rating, more failing

Nearly a third of schools fared poorly in a new rating system intended to measure students’ academic gains over time, according to the Aug. 9 Indianapolis Star. Middle and high schools performed worst, with the majority falling in the second-lowest category, “academic probation.” The new system differs from that used under the federal No Child Left Behind law, which rates schools based on how many students pass tests each year. Education leaders hope to join a federal initiative that would allow a handful of states to bypass the NCLB system.

Florida: Preschool prep

Kindergarten teachers will be using a more detailed system to measure children’s school preparedness under a new program aimed at judging the effectiveness of the state’s universal preschool program, according to the Aug. 8 Miami Herald. Teachers will rate children’s performance on activities involving social skills, language and creative arts. Critics say the test will not accurately measure children’s learning because there is no comparison data to show what children knew before entering preschool.

Alabama: Longer school year

Five days are being added to the school calendar, bringing Alabama in line with the majority of states, which require 180 days of instruction each year, according to the Aug. 3 Huntsville Times. Gov. Bob Riley signed a law last spring requiring the additional days and allocating $80 million to cover the additional salary costs for teachers and other school employees. Illinois requires 176 days of instruction.

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“They think it’s like running a Starbucks or IBM, and it’s not.”

Joan Crisler, managing director of LAUNCH (Leadership Academy and Urban Network for Chicago), on the misconceptions of some aspiring principals. Crisler was a guest on the Aug. 13 broadcast of Catalyst’s monthly radio show “City Voices.” To download, click here.

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State poverty funds that go directly to CPS schools have been capped at $261 million since 1995. But the poverty funds that go to central office have been increasing. How is CPS spending its portion?

Valencia Rias, Designs for Change

The state sent an additional $69 million in poverty funds to CPS for fiscal year 2007, raising the total to $355 million, according to CPS Budget Director Pedro Martinez. All of the additional funds were spent on raises and benefits for teachers and other school staff, he says. CPS’ general education fund includes state poverty money, other state funding and property tax revenue. The general fund pays for everything from salaries to textbooks to central office staff and building maintenance, says Martinez. Schools can only use their portion of poverty funds to supplement basic services.

Directing additional poverty funds to schools above the $261 million required by state law would force the district to cut basic services, Martinez argues, because overall funding from the state is so low. But without an increase in their portion of poverty funds, schools can’t keep pace with salary increases and are forced to cut positions, observes Diana Lauber, managing director of the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform. Many schools would like the law to be revised so that the $261 million is increased annually to match inflation, she says.

E-mail your question to

or send it to Ask Catalyst, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Suite 500, Chicago,

IL 60604.

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Illinois, which ranks 47th in the nation on state education funding, also has one of the lowest corporate income tax rates in the country. Of 32 states with a single, flat tax rate, Illinois has the 3rd-lowest, at 4.8%, according to an analysis of tax rates by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. Only Kansas, at 4%, and Colorado, at 4.6%, are lower. The average flat tax rate for the 32 states is 7.2%.

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