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Chicago Public Schools closed despite receiving nearly $2.8B in federal COVID funding

The Chicago Public Schools system were projected to receive nearly $2.8 billion in federal coronavirus aid intended to help schools reopen, but they remain closed amid a showdown between city leaders and the teachers’ union. 

According to data from the Illinois Board of Education, Chicago Public Schools were projected to get $2.79 billion in federal coronavirus funding from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.

The ESSER was established in the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law in March 2020, and additional funding was added to the program by subsequent legislation in January and March 2021.

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Chicago Public Schools received $206 million from the ESSER I, which was part of the CARES Act. The district received $796.7 million from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, which was signed into law in January 2021, and is projected to receive $1.78 billion from the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law in March 2021.

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A sign on the fence outside of Lowell elementary school welcomes students on Jan. 5, 2022, in Chicago. (Scott Olson/Getty Images / Getty Images)

In a January 2021 letter by thenSecretary of Education Betsy DeVos, states were urged to use the funding, in part, to safely reopen schools.

“Once again, I urge you to use the ESSER and ESSER II funding to safely re-open all elementary and secondary schools as soon as possible, to restore and maintain high-quality learning environments, and to take comprehensive action to mitigate the unprecedented learning loss that many of our most vulnerable students have endured,” the letter reads.

A March 2021 fact sheet from the Department of Education also states that local education agencies should use a portion of funding from the American Rescue Plan to develop policies and practices relating to the reopening of schools.

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Local education agencies that receive funds from the American Rescue Plan also were required to make a portion of their website dedicated to outlining how the schools plan to resume in-person learning, according to the document.

According to Chicago Public Schools, the district has spent over $30 million on technology, such as laptops, and nearly $26 million on safety equipment, such as medical equipment, masks, air purifiers and other items intended to make schools safer. 

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Lori Lightfoot speaks during a Jan. 4 press conference. (Facebook/ Chicago Public Schools)

Other purchases include education materials, transportation, meals for students and more. 

However, the Chicago Teachers Union is demanding more should be done before returning to in-person learning, which has been canceled since Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the Chicago Teachers Union voted to switch to remote learning because of increasing coronavirus cases in the area, stating that the union would go back to in-person learning when either coronavirus cases “substantially subside” or the city signs an agreement on “conditions of return.”

The CPS responded by canceling classes on Wednesday and refused to allow remote learning.

“The in-person learning that some of us are getting is still not where it needs to be because the district, the mayor, refuses to put the resources into schools. She spent $100 million,” CTU vice president Stacy Davis Gates said during a Zoom meeting on Wednesday.

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The mayor of Chicago accused the CTU of holding students’ education “hostage” during a press conference on Wednesday. 

A sign taped to the front door of Pulaski International School of Chicago reads, School Closed after Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, said it would cancel classes since the teachers’ union voted in favor of a return (Reuters/Jim Vondruska / Reuters Photos)

“I will not allow [the Chicago Teachers Union] to take our children hostage. I will not allow them to compromise the future of this generation of CPS students. That is not going to happen,” Lightfoot said during a Wednesday night press conference. 

The CPS has not announced that classes on Monday are canceled district-wide yet; however, some schools are already canceling classes, citing low staffing levels.

“Based on the expected staffing levels on Monday, 1/10/2022, regular classes will be canceled for Students. There are limited opportunities for the in-person activities below to take place.  Our goal is to be able to welcome all of our Students back to our school as soon as possible,” Mark Grishaber, the principal of William Howard Taft High School, wrote in an email to parents on Friday.

Fox News’ Audrey Conklin contributed to this report.

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