As Chicago prepares for its new school year, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel announced the start of his “Independent Schools Program” on Monday. It will give 25 school principals increased budget autonomy, more training money, and less district-level oversight and evaluation compliance requirements.
The program is designed to retain high-performing principals. Those eligible for Independent School Status must have received high evaluation the marks the past two years and been at their current school the past three.
In his speech, Emmanuel laid out the incentives:
If you want independence, earn it. Then all the resources, attention time and energy will be focused on those that need to be lifted up. You don’t want the area office at CPS centrally focusing on schools that are doing great. You want their time and energy dedicated towards schools that need the help and the assistance.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is known for recently implementing Student-Based-Budgeting (SBB) in 2013 which allows school funding to follow the child on a per-pupil basis. CPS’ move is part of a trend of districts around the country adopting this strategy to reduce per-student funding gaps between schools. Before it put SBB in place, Chicago’s poorest 300 schools were being short-changed by an average of 13% in per-student budgets.
Mayor Emmanuel’s autonomy proposal can help his SBB reform be as effective as possible. Portable student funding goes further when principals have the authority to decide how to use resources. In a typical school district, principals only control 5 percent of their school budget. Chicago’s roll-out of SBB made strides by giving their principals 50 percent control. But the closer principals come to complete fiscal autonomy, the better they can meet the individual needs of their communities and react to funding fluctuations. Mayor Emmanuel’s program is a good step in this direction. Hopefully the Independent Schools Program can be expanded in the future to give principals the flexibility they need to provide a quality education to Chicago’s children.