Chicago residents pack Douglas Park field house during a May 19 school funding rally. | Igor Studenkov/Contributor

Parents, students, principals, activists and community members from all over Chicago and beyond gathered at the Douglas Park fieldhouse, 1401 S. Sacramento Dr., on May 19 to call for the Illinois General Assembly to pass a bill that would change the way schools are funded.

The bill, which was introduced by state Sen. Andy Manar (48th), would shift the way the state funding is calculated for each school. Districts with more low-income students and English-language learners would get more money. And, for the first time ever, the state would partially cover the pension obligations of Chicago Public Schools.

During the rally, hosted by the school funding reform coalition Our Students, Our Future, speakers emphasized that school funding isn’t just a CPS issue — it is an issue that affects urban, rural and suburban school districts throughout the state. The people who attended the rally told Austin Weekly News that they have seen firsthand how lack of funding can hurt students.

Long-time Chicago radio host, and the rally’s emcee, Ramonsky Luv, decried the current funding formula, which he said was unfair to many communities.

“We need money compete,” Luv said. “The elite schools got it. How come we don’t have it? Did you know that some districts in Illinois spend $30,000 for student? What about CPS? How come CPS don’t get that money?”

CPS CEO Forest Claypool acknowledged that his appearance at the rally came two days after his district announced that principals should prepare to have their budgets cut by an average of 26 percent. The officials blamed the cuts on pension obligations.

Claypool describe the cuts as an unpleasant, but necessary given the circumstances.

“I got to tell you – my heart broke,” he said. “There were tears all around.”

The funding reform, said Claypool, would go a long way toward improving the situation.

“You have to be [students’] voices, you have to speak for them, because for the past years, there were no voices to speak for them,” he said.

Claypool also argued that the funding reform wasn’t just a Chicago issue.

“60 percent of districts are in the deficit spending, trying to protect our children,” he said. “We’re at a breaking point. The time for talk is over, the time for action is now.”

Tamara Davis, the principal at North Lawndale’s Herzl School of Excellence described the consequences of cuts in stark terms.

“We stand to lose almost $800,000,” she said. “I can potentially lose eight teachers.”

Davis said that she may have to cut fine arts, reduce student support staff and increase class sizes.

“It’s not fair that I have to decide which critical component to eliminate in our school,” she said. “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she said. “Our state is struggling, too, but we have the single most inequitable funding system in the country.”

Ald Michael Scott (24th) said that, as a parent with two kids who are attending CPS schools, he’s doing his part to gather enough signatures to put an advisory referendum on the ballot. The referendum asks residents whether or not they’re in favor of the funding formula changes.

“Just to show how committed the 24th Ward is,” Scott said, “Over the past few weeks, we got thousands of petitions signed. And we’re going to continue getting petitions signed, because it’s important.”

Pamela Price, of North Lawndale, said that she had family in CPS, and the effects of previous funding cuts have hurt them, too.

“Some [classes] have cut and cut — gym, library, art classes, music,” she said.