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Illinois Policy Institute/ Chris Lentino

Chicago Public Schools’ teacher and staff layoff announcement comes as the district pushes for more state money despite Chicago’s millions in TIF funds.

Chicago Public Schools has announced layoffs plans ahead of the start of the new school year, according to the Chicago Tribune. This time, 356 teachers will be laid off: the lowest since 2007. In total, nearly 1,000 CPS employees will lose their jobs.

Most of the laid-off teachers will be rehired in other vacant roles. CPS estimates that 60 percent will be rehired. The district will have 500 vacant full-time positions for which those teachers can apply, according to DNAInfo.

DNAInfo has published data that show the hardest-hit school will be Thomas Kelly High School, losing 12 teachers and 10 support staff.

The trends of teachers and staff losing their jobs mirror the drop in enrollment. CPS lost nearly 14,000 students between the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years, according to DNAInfo. , enrollment is expected to drop by nearly 8,000 students.

As the district shuffles staff to deal with enrollment and program changes, CPS’ financial problems loom as the new school year approaches.

According to state law, CPS is required to submit a budget for the upcoming year no later than 60 days from the completion of the previous year, or Sept. 1. However, the district has not yet released its budget for the upcoming school year, as it waits to see how much state funding it will get. In so doing, CPS is pushing its budgeting closer and closer to the first day of school on Sept. 5.

The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1, an education funding bill, in May; however, lawmakers delayed sending the bill to the governor for two months. Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto of the legislation Aug. 1, cutting certain provisions such as $200 million in “block grant” funding that only CPS receives and eliminating the ability of districts to hide property tax resources that are tied up in tax increment financing, or TIF, funds when applying for state aid.

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The Senate has 15 days to act on either approving of or overriding the veto. To date, lawmakers have not acted.

Throughout Illinois’ two-year budget gridlock, CPS demanded that the state pay for its $215 million in annual pension costs. The district even approved a budget for fiscal year 2017 that relied on $215 million in state funding, despite the fact that the funding was contingent on reforms that never materialized. In the end, the state money was not approved for CPS, and the district’s budget was thrown into even greater disarray.

While SB 1 does contain a pension bailout for the district, CPS doesn’t need the state to fix its financial mess.

The city of Chicago is sitting on $561 million in TIF revenues. These tax revenues belong to Chicagoans but instead go into a special fund the mayor can direct toward private developers. Not a dime goes to CPS for regular classroom costs.

Chicago should close its TIF funds and use those resources to invest in CPS. Chicago politicians should not insist on a CPS bailout when state lawmakers’ main responsibility is ensuring all Illinois schools are funded.

CPS got itself into its financial mess in the first place through skipped pension payments, excessive borrowing, unaffordable teacher contracts and overall fiscal mismanagement over more than 20 years. Pension reform, right-sizing payrolls and strict financial controls are key to making CPS sustainable for future generations.

TIF funds allow municipalities such as Chicago to force taxpayers to make up for artificially created shortfalls while a select few benefit. The elimination of TIF is a key step toward reform.

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