Chicago Public Schools Cuts Special Education Teachers and Aides

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) claims to have cut 200 special education teachers and 750 special education aides, although you will not find these numbers in the budget. In fact, the budget contains no reference to these cuts except in the cover letter in which Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan claims that, “Due to federal and state under-funding of special education mandates and enrollment declines, we … reduced $26 million out of our special education programs without jeopardizing the necessary services our students need.”

For nearly a decade, Chicago operated under a legal settlement agreement (referred to as Corey H.) designed to bring CPS into compliance with mandates to serve children with disabilities in the least restrictive environment. Researchers at Designs for Change have documented some of the beneficial results of the Corey H. settlement for students in the CPS. [The group] tells the story of Andrew, who has an individual aide that allows him to participate in the regular classroom:

“Following the Corey H. settlement, Andrew became the first child with severe disabilities to be enrolled in his particular neighborhood school, as a kindergartner. … Now in the seventh grade, Andrew has had great success in his home school, earning a spot on the honor roll this past school year, and developing thriving social relationships with his classmates. His participation and success would be impossible without his individual aide.” (Designs for Change, budget testimony, June 21, 2006)

Unfortunately, Andrew’s individual aide is one of the 750 special education aides that CPS cut in its Final Budget FY 2007. CPS press releases and public presentations assure parents that these cuts will not affect the services that their children receive. Stories like Andrew’s disprove this claim.

While CPS has declared that it used a “fair and equitable” process for deciding which positions are eliminated and that the process included an appeals procedure, the CPS budget office has failed to provide a school-by-school listing of the cuts so citizens can judge for themselves. A partial listing of cuts obtained by Access Living and analyzed by Designs for Change suggests that whatever formula CPS used was so flawed that in 98 of the schools targeted for special education position cuts, over 45 percent of the positions slated to be closed were regained upon appeal. We believe that any formula that miscalculates staffing needs for one of every two cuts that it makes is neither fair, nor equitable, nor reasonable.

As of July 18, 2006 (three weeks after the Board of Trustees approved the budget), CPS had not produced school-by-school details of the special education cuts. Nor has it produced a list of layoffs to the respective unions that represent those employees. Parents and advocates have filed an appeal with the court-appointed Corey H. monitor to block the cuts and the unions are preparing unfair labor practice suits against the system.

This is only a recounting of cuts to special education services over six months (January to June, 2006). It does not take into account reductions in special education positions from the last several years. (For a fuller analysis of cuts in special education and their impact, see analyses by Access Living.)

Excerpted from “Analysis and Findings of the Chicago Public Schools Final Budget FY 2007,” produced by the Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform.