Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez. | Provided

On Friday, I interviewed Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez about the 2022-23 school budgets. In March, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the new budget “prioritizes robust and holistic teaching so that students can continue to learn, grow, and succeed academically, socially and emotionally.” 

You can read the CPS statement on the new budget, the first since Martinez was appointed CEO last year, here

Can you give an overview of some of the most important features in the new budget?

We did it differently this year than we’ve done in the past. This has been such a difficult period that our schools and families have gone through with the pandemic, so we brought in our principals. 

We looked at our academic data and where our children were at and we asked principals what are the conditions that need to be in place for every school so that our children can be successful next year. They said we need to have foundational resources that are universal to every single school — regardless of size. 

That means having enough teachers for reasonable class sizes (so under 30 children), not having to combine classrooms, freed up intervention teachers for students who are struggling, making sure that every school has access to the arts (we still have hundreds of schools without strong art programs and no art teachers), resources for professional development, training for every teacher and more intense support for schools that need it. 

Apples to apples, we’re increasing the budget by about $130 million at the school level. That’s in spite of the fact that we’ve seen enrollment declines of 25,000 children over the last two years. Even with that, we’re spending more than ever on a per student basis. The highest is our Black students and we’re saying that unapologetically, because they have the most needs. Next are our Latinx students. And then our other students. But spending on all of them, on a per pupil basis, is going up by about 7%. 

And then, for the first time in our district, every school will have these foundational resources. In fact, we’re hiring over 1,600 teachers, including a couple hundred art teachers so we can really meet those needs. 

Can you talk a little more about how this year’s budgeting process is different than previous years? 

This is the first time we asked, with the input of our school leaders, what are the foundational resources that every school should have? What we’ve always done is we’ve said, ‘Here’s school A, they need these resources because maybe they’re very small. Here’s school B, which may not need as many because it’s larger.’ 

But we’ve never said, for example, that every child should have access to the arts. We’ve never done that. We’ve never said that every school should have intervention teachers or enough teachers with reasonable class sizes. And that’s why this school year, when I started in September, we had schools with over 30 children where we had to go in and add resources. The problem was that school had already started. So, we’re doing all of this upfront to make sure that the schools have the resources now. That’s why we’re in the process of hiring 1,600 teachers. 

How will you all recruit teachers, particularly teachers of color, when across the country, teachers are leaving classrooms in droves? 

The good news is last year, we were able to fill 97% of our teaching positions. We have about 21,000 classroom teachers by the way. We’re doing quite a bit of early hiring. We started hiring in March. 

We also have residency programs that are producing a lot more teachers of color. One of the most exciting things I did this year was attend an event where we had 65 of our graduating high school students, children of color from 30 different high schools, who have committed to become teachers. They’ll do their first two years at Truman, they’ll do their last two years at Illinois State University. And in four years, they’ll be certified teachers. We’re giving them scholarships, so they don’t have to pay for college. So, we’re building that pipeline with our students, as well. 

The program is called Teach Chicago Tomorrow. We’ve really ramped that up. We more than doubled it this year from last year and I’d like to double the number again next year. Imagine being able to teach in your own district where you went to school, even in your own neighborhood. So, that’s how we’re providing our own pipeline of teachers, especially teachers who are diverse. 

We’re also doing big recruitments at HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). So, we’re going to the colleges we know that have these candidates — both within the Midwest and nationally. Our teacher salaries are some of the highest around the country. Next year, our starting salaries are about $60,000 a year. And that’s not counting summer work or after school work. 

Can you explain for the average person how the CPS budget process works and how parents and families can get more involved in the process? 

We started asking for feedback for our budget as early as the beginning of the calendar year. So, we were doing sessions and workshops. We were in the middle of the pandemic, so you can imagine that a lot of people had other concerns on their minds. As we get into the budget process, the best way for our families to participate is through their local school. So, every school has a Local School Council. Those meetings are open to the public, where they can see the budgets. 

We are still going through the budget process. I would invite any parent to really talk to your school principal and your LSC chair about what is in that budget. And make sure the principal is in touch with us. We’re still making adjustments as needed and this process will continue through June. The budget will be finalized at our June board meeting, which is the fourth Wednesday in June [June 22]. 

You must register in advance in order to participate in any Chicago Board of Education meeting. You can do so by clicking here