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Early childhood quality rating system comes online

July 3, 2014 - 12:55pm

Need help finding a quality early learning provider for your child? This week, a new web site based off the state’s updated quality rating system came online to do just that.

ExceleRate Illinois, which replaces the former Quality Counts rating system, separates licensed early care and education programs into four categories, or “circles,”  that range in quality from merely licensed to bronze, silver and gold. The higher ratings indicate that programs are moving toward improvement, including trainings for staff and use of research-based curriculum that’s aligned with state guidelines on early learning.

“It’s about engaging people in continuous improvement and giving them a road map to get there, rather than being any kind of punitive system at all,” said Theresa Hawley, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development.

All licensed programs in the state are included in the system, although not all are required to participate in the process of trying to improve their quality ratings. However, there is a benefit to those programs that earn silver or gold ratings: higher payments for those that benefit from the state’s child care assistance program.

“We recognize that it’s more expensive to provide these services,” Hawley said.

The online rating database allows users to type in a city or zip code to find licensed care in specific geographic areas. Apart from the rating description, users can also see program hours, ages served, a map and contact information.

The goal is to help parents think about quality -- and not just location and cost- - when deciding on early childhood programs.

Rated programs include school-based preschool, Head Start and center-based Early Head Start, child care centers, and private licensed preschool programs. Hawley explained that not all ratings are yet in the system, including many of Chicago’s school-based programs. It could take another six months to a year for it to be a “solid database,” she said.

Next year, ExceleRate Illinois will also include ratings for licensed family child care homes; a quality rating system for that category is currently being developed.

The new criteria used to rate early childhood programs was developed through a 16-month process with stakeholders from across the state. (For more on the standards, see this presentation.)

The Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies administers the site, under the direction of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois State Board of Education. The state updated its quality rating system in response to receiving federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants.

The ExceleRate Illinois site is separate from the City of Chicago’s own Early Learning site, which will be updated to include ExceleRate ratings.

Early childhood quality rating system comes online

July 3, 2014 - 12:55pm

Need help finding a quality early learning provider for your child? This week, a new web site based off the state’s updated quality rating system came online to do just that.

ExceleRate Illinois, which replaces the former Quality Counts rating system, separates licensed early care and education programs into four categories, or “circles,”  that range in quality from merely licensed to bronze, silver and gold. The higher ratings indicate that programs are moving toward improvement, including trainings for staff and use of research-based curriculum that’s aligned with state guidelines on early learning.

“It’s about engaging people in continuous improvement and giving them a road map to get there, rather than being any kind of punitive system at all,” said Theresa Hawley, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development.

All licensed programs in the state are included in the system, although not all are required to participate in the process of trying to improve their quality ratings. However, there is a benefit to those programs that earn silver or gold ratings: higher payments for those that benefit from the state’s child care assistance program.

“We recognize that it’s more expensive to provide these services,” Hawley said.

The online rating database allows users to type in a city or zip code to find licensed care in specific geographic areas. Apart from the rating description, users can also see program hours, ages served, a map and contact information.

The goal is to help parents think about quality -- and not just location and cost- - when deciding on early childhood programs.

Rated programs include school-based preschool, Head Start and center-based Early Head Start, child care centers, and private licensed preschool programs. Hawley explained that not all ratings are yet in the system, including many of Chicago’s school-based programs. It could take another six months to a year for it to be a “solid database,” she said.

Next year, ExceleRate Illinois will also include ratings for licensed family child care homes; a quality rating system for that category is currently being developed.

The new criteria used to rate early childhood programs was developed through a 16-month process with stakeholders from across the state. (For more on the standards, see this presentation.)

The Illinois Network of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies administers the site, under the direction of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development, the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois State Board of Education. The state updated its quality rating system in response to receiving federal Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants.

The ExceleRate Illinois site is separate from the City of Chicago’s own Early Learning site, which will be updated to include ExceleRate ratings.

Big budget cuts hit high schools, welcoming schools

July 3, 2014 - 10:09am

Last school year drew to a somber close as thousands of children said goodbye to familiar teachers and schools and looked toward a fall in an unfamiliar place.

Now, many of these students are facing uncertainty once again as their new schools grapple with steep budget cuts. Along with schools designated to take in students from closed schools—so-called “welcoming schools”--neighborhood high schools are also facing cuts, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of the district’s just-released budget for 2014-2015.

Here are the major points:

  • Once again, neighborhood high schools saw the biggest losses, driven by enrollment decline. On average, these schools experienced a 10 percent decrease in their budgets. A third lost more than $1 million. Though the cuts hit neighborhood high schools all over the city, nearly every such school on the South Side and Far South Side took a substantial hit.
  • Designated welcoming schools experienced an average 5 percent decrease in their budgets. And 80 percent of these schools lost more than $70,000—the average salary for one teacher. Only 20 percent of other neighborhood elementary schools did.
  • The district is expecting 3,400 more students in charter schools and to spend about $42 million more on charter schools next year. Nine new charter schools are expected to open in the fall and one is going to close.

 

Overall, school budgets last year were cut by about $100 million, generating a wave of complaints from parents and school leaders. This year, there was an increase of about $140 million, bringing funding to about the same level as the previous year, 2012-2013. But there’s a caveat: The increase might not feel like much to schools, which have to pay teachers a 2 percent raise this year.

Welcoming schools making adjustments

De Diego Elementary and other schools that took in children displaced by closings got an abundance of money and resources, like iPads, as the district sought to make good on its promise that children would be sent to better schools than the ones that shut down. Early on, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made it clear that receiving schools would no longer receive the money that was given to them for extra staff and social-emotional programs. Welcoming schools were given between $80,000 and $326,000, depending on the size of the school. Now these welcoming schools will have to make adjustments, endangering any efforts to make academic gains.

De Diego Local School Council member Alyx Pattison said the extra money last year was critical for the school to have small class sizes that allowed teachers to pay more attention to students who might be struggling with the transition. Now, with a $1.2 million budget cut, the school will have to do with six fewer teachers. Of all the welcoming schools, De Diego lost the most money.

Pattison says she understands that the school budget had to be brought back down to a more normal level, but thinks the cuts should have been done gradually, not all at once.

“A school’s culture is a fragile thing, especially a school in a neighborhood where there are gang lines,” she says. Also, on Tuesday, CPS officials removed De Diego’s principal and assistant principal without explanation.

Mollison Principal Kim Henderson says her school’s budget is down by $248,000 from last year, forcing the layoffs of some supplemental teachers.  “I think our budget now is more realistic,” she says.

Another welcoming school principal says that he will have to reconfigure his staff and lay off a security guard to deal with his losses. “I think that it will destabilize the school,” says the principal, who did not want to be identified because CPS communications didn’t give him permission to speak.

A Catalyst Chicago analysis of class size data shows that welcoming schools had an average of 23.5 students in each class, compared to 26.5 in other elementary schools. And while principals from welcoming schools say they will still try to keep their class sizes small, it will be more of a challenge as extra money dries up.

Welcoming school enrollment projections way off

Stripping the extra resources from welcoming schools goes against one of the recommendations of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, which said in a report that welcoming schools should get extra support for a longer period.  “CPS should be required to provide 5 years of sustained, intensive academic and financial supports to current (and any future) non-Charter Designated Welcoming Schools and non-designated welcoming schools to benefit all impacted students,” according to the report.

Though welcoming schools were expected to get significant influxes of students, most received fewer students than expected and were in danger of losing money under the district’s new per-pupil budgeting strategy. Overall, projections were way off, with only 52 percent of students, or about 5,800 of 11,000 displaced students, went to their welcoming school, according to enrollment figures.

But last year, Byrd-Bennett held all schools harmless, allowing welcoming schools and neighborhood high schools to keep money even if fewer students showed up.

One example is De Diego, which got $392,000 in extra funds and was projected to get 1,120 students. Instead, just 934 showed up. This year, the school is projected to only get 856.

In some cases, students already in the welcoming school didn’t stay, especially those instances in which the district closed the building of the welcoming school and moved the students and staff into a closing school’s building that was renamed.

Take Stockton and Courtenay. According to the district, nearly 90 percent of Stockton students enrolled in the new Courtenay. However, on the 20th day, which is the day CPS audits enrollment, about 100 fewer students were in the school.

Katie Reed, whose children attended Courtenay last year, says that she and other parents pulled their children because they thought combining the two schools would deplete what made Courtenay special. Courtenay was a small, high-achieving, open enrollment school, while Stockton was a low-performing neighborhood school in Uptown.

While she says she and other parents found other good options for their children, the combining of Courtenay with Stockton has left them bitter.

Juggling extra resources

On top of the extra pot of cash, welcoming schools were renovated with new labs and libraries. They were also given iPads and computers for each student from third through eighth grade.

Wells Prep Principal Jeffrey White says he demanded that CPS give the school everything that was promised. When school opened, it was still missing four security cameras. But he e-mailed the chief and “raised hell” and those cameras showed up.

Overall, Wells’ budget is down by $368,000. White insists he will be able to make cuts that don’t impact the classroom and won’t make class sizes go up. He did not explain how, but the Wells budget shows the school will spend less money on support services and virtually nothing on community services, including parental involvement and after- school programs.

White says the school has more than enough computers and a media specialist. The school also has Promethean boards, which are interactive white boards, in every classroom.

But a report from the Chicago Teachers Union took CPS to task for not providing adequate training on the technology. Also, it said many of the schools did not have librarians or media specialists that would make the technology more useful.

Some principals say that even without staffing these positions, they have been able to make use of these spaces. Teachers bring multiple classes into libraries so they can co-teach and have students work on projects and check out books.

It remains to be seen what will happen with these spaces as time goes on and staff shrinks even more.

Further, budget cuts could threaten the specialty programs in receiving schools. Seventeen of the receiving schools were given money to launch STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or International Baccalaureate programs. They will continue to get two positions to support these programs.

Originally, district officials wanted these schools to bring in new, already-trained teachers to get the specialty programs off the ground. But now principals are being told to keep their existing teachers in place and to have them participate in training programs over the summer.

To Henderson, that is a good decision because she doesn’t think her school needs any more upheaval. “After such a year of change what the staff needs now is consistency.”  In the meantime, Henderson says the school has focused on being an international school. The school’s Spanish teacher often uses the library, which does not have a librarian.

Staff and budget won’t be the only factors that will test the impact of school closings. The schools have spent the year trying to meld children and families.

Wells Prep took in students from Mayo, which was literally 50 yards away. White says his staff did a great job of putting aside difference and getting the students to not bicker or fight with each other. The fact that the schools were in such close proximity meant that the students knew each other. “They live next door to one another,” he says.

But Angelique Harris, a Local School Council member at Wells, says at the beginning, it was tough and tense. “After the first week everything calmed down,” she says.

Still, Harris says getting parents from Mayo to come to meetings is hard. “Parents were invested in Mayo,” she says. “They have had a hands-off approach with Wells. We need to work on getting their trust back. We need to make sure they feel welcome.”

Henderson has also had trouble getting parents of Overton students to adjust to the new reality.  She says that anything bad that has happened in the school year was attributed to the fact that the school is a receiving school.

She says she’s glad the first year is over. She is ready for Mollison to become “just a regular school” rather than a “welcoming school.”

Big budget cuts hit high schools, welcoming schools

July 3, 2014 - 10:09am

Last school year drew to a somber close as thousands of children said goodbye to familiar teachers and schools and looked toward a fall in an unfamiliar place.

Now, many of these students are facing uncertainty once again as their new schools grapple with steep budget cuts. Along with schools designated to take in students from closed schools—so-called “welcoming schools”--neighborhood high schools are also facing cuts, according to a Catalyst Chicago analysis of the district’s just-released budget for 2014-2015.

Here are the major points:

  • Once again, neighborhood high schools saw the biggest losses, driven by enrollment decline. On average, these schools experienced a 10 percent decrease in their budgets. A third lost more than $1 million. Though the cuts hit neighborhood high schools all over the city, nearly every such school on the South Side and Far South Side took a substantial hit.
  • Designated welcoming schools experienced an average 5 percent decrease in their budgets. And 80 percent of these schools lost more than $70,000—the average salary for one teacher. Only 20 percent of other neighborhood elementary schools did.
  • The district is expecting 3,400 more students in charter schools and to spend about $42 million more on charter schools next year. Nine new charter schools are expected to open in the fall and one is going to close.

 

Overall, school budgets last year were cut by about $100 million, generating a wave of complaints from parents and school leaders. This year, there was an increase of about $40 million, bringing funding to about the same level as the previous year, 2012-2013. But there’s a caveat: The increase might not feel like much to schools, which have to pay teachers a 2 percent raise this year.

Welcoming schools making adjustments

De Diego Elementary and other schools that took in children displaced by closings got an abundance of money and resources, like iPads, as the district sought to make good on its promise that children would be sent to better schools than the ones that shut down. Early on, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett made it clear that receiving schools would no longer receive the money that was given to them for extra staff and social-emotional programs. Welcoming schools were given between $80,000 and $326,000, depending on the size of the school. Now these welcoming schools will have to make adjustments, endangering any efforts to make academic gains.

De Diego Local School Council member Alyx Pattison said the extra money last year was critical for the school to have small class sizes that allowed teachers to pay more attention to students who might be struggling with the transition. Now, with a $1.2 million budget cut, the school will have to do with six fewer teachers. Of all the welcoming schools, De Diego lost the most money.

Pattison says she understands that the school budget had to be brought back down to a more normal level, but thinks the cuts should have been done gradually, not all at once.

“A school’s culture is a fragile thing, especially a school in a neighborhood where there are gang lines,” she says. Also, on Tuesday, CPS officials removed De Diego’s principal and assistant principal without explanation.

Mollison Principal Kim Henderson says her school’s budget is down by $248,000 from last year, forcing the layoffs of some supplemental teachers.  “I think our budget now is more realistic,” she says.

Another welcoming school principal says that he will have to reconfigure his staff and lay off a security guard to deal with his losses. “I think that it will destabilize the school,” says the principal, who did not want to be identified because CPS communications didn’t give him permission to speak.

A Catalyst Chicago analysis of class size data shows that welcoming schools had an average of 23.5 students in each class, compared to 26.5 in other elementary schools. And while principals from welcoming schools say they will still try to keep their class sizes small, it will be more of a challenge as extra money dries up.

Welcoming school enrollment projections way off

Stripping the extra resources from welcoming schools goes against one of the recommendations of the Chicago Educational Facilities Task Force, which said in a report that welcoming schools should get extra support for a longer period.  “CPS should be required to provide 5 years of sustained, intensive academic and financial supports to current (and any future) non-Charter Designated Welcoming Schools and non-designated welcoming schools to benefit all impacted students,” according to the report.

Though welcoming schools were expected to get significant influxes of students, most received fewer students than expected and were in danger of losing money under the district’s new per-pupil budgeting strategy. Overall, projections were way off, with only 52 percent of students, or about 5,800 of 11,000 displaced students, went to their welcoming school, according to enrollment figures.

But last year, Byrd-Bennett held all schools harmless, allowing welcoming schools and neighborhood high schools to keep money even if fewer students showed up.

One example is De Diego, which got $392,000 in extra funds and was projected to get 1,120 students. Instead, just 934 showed up. This year, the school is projected to only get 856.

In some cases, students already in the welcoming school didn’t stay, especially those instances in which the district closed the building of the welcoming school and moved the students and staff into a closing school’s building that was renamed.

Take Stockton and Courtenay. According to the district, nearly 90 percent of Stockton students enrolled in the new Courtenay. However, on the 20th day, which is the day CPS audits enrollment, about 100 fewer students were in the school.

Katie Reed, whose children attended Courtenay last year, says that she and other parents pulled their children because they thought combining the two schools would deplete what made Courtenay special. Courtenay was a small, high-achieving, open enrollment school, while Stockton was a low-performing neighborhood school in Uptown.

While she says she and other parents found other good options for their children, the combining of Courtenay with Stockton has left them bitter.

Juggling extra resources

On top of the extra pot of cash, welcoming schools were renovated with new labs and libraries. They were also given iPads and computers for each student from third through eighth grade.

Wells Prep Principal Jeffrey White says he demanded that CPS give the school everything that was promised. When school opened, it was still missing four security cameras. But he e-mailed the chief and “raised hell” and those cameras showed up.

Overall, Wells’ budget is down by $368,000. White insists he will be able to make cuts that don’t impact the classroom and won’t make class sizes go up. He did not explain how, but the Wells budget shows the school will spend less money on support services and virtually nothing on community services, including parental involvement and after- school programs.

White says the school has more than enough computers and a media specialist. The school also has Promethean boards, which are interactive white boards, in every classroom.

But a report from the Chicago Teachers Union took CPS to task for not providing adequate training on the technology. Also, it said many of the schools did not have librarians or media specialists that would make the technology more useful.

Some principals say that even without staffing these positions, they have been able to make use of these spaces. Teachers bring multiple classes into libraries so they can co-teach and have students work on projects and check out books.

It remains to be seen what will happen with these spaces as time goes on and staff shrinks even more.

Further, budget cuts could threaten the specialty programs in receiving schools. Seventeen of the receiving schools were given money to launch STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or International Baccalaureate programs. They will continue to get two positions to support these programs.

Originally, district officials wanted these schools to bring in new, already-trained teachers to get the specialty programs off the ground. But now principals are being told to keep their existing teachers in place and to have them participate in training programs over the summer.

To Henderson, that is a good decision because she doesn’t think her school needs any more upheaval. “After such a year of change what the staff needs now is consistency.”  In the meantime, Henderson says the school has focused on being an international school. The school’s Spanish teacher often uses the library, which does not have a librarian.

Staff and budget won’t be the only factors that will test the impact of school closings. The schools have spent the year trying to meld children and families.

Wells Prep took in students from Mayo, which was literally 50 yards away. White says his staff did a great job of putting aside difference and getting the students to not bicker or fight with each other. The fact that the schools were in such close proximity meant that the students knew each other. “They live next door to one another,” he says.

But Angelique Harris, a Local School Council member at Wells, says at the beginning, it was tough and tense. “After the first week everything calmed down,” she says.

Still, Harris says getting parents from Mayo to come to meetings is hard. “Parents were invested in Mayo,” she says. “They have had a hands-off approach with Wells. We need to work on getting their trust back. We need to make sure they feel welcome.”

Henderson has also had trouble getting parents of Overton students to adjust to the new reality.  She says that anything bad that has happened in the school year was attributed to the fact that the school is a receiving school.

She says she’s glad the first year is over. She is ready for Mollison to become “just a regular school” rather than a “welcoming school.”

Budget details still in short supply

July 2, 2014 - 5:44pm

CPS officials provided some details—though little new information--about next year’s budget on Wednesday afternoon, but have yet to release it. Sometime this evening, they say, it will be posted online.

The Board of Education will vote on the budget at its July 23 meeting, but officials did not announce any dates for public hearings on it. Once the actual budget is released, it will become clearer which schools will experience budget cuts and which departments the district will invest in most heavily. The $5.76 billion budget is slightly higher than last year's $5.69 billion budget.

Most of the new spending touted by officials on Wednesday has already been announced, such as $250 more in per-pupil spending for each student, the hiring of 84 art teachers and 84 gym teachers (with surpluse TIF funds in a district with more than 500 schools) and five new International Baccalaureate programs. The district also announced that it will spend $1 million to expand the Safe Passage program, but did not give details on where workers will be stationed and why the decision was made.

CPS is cutting $55 million from administration and operations, the smallest cut in at least five years. Central office will lose 20 staff positions, and the other cuts will be made by such moves as reducing “training vendors.”

Officials had warned that a pending $634 million required contribution to the teacher’s pension fund would mean a $1 billion deficit. (On June 27, the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund posted an announcement online that CPS had made a more than $585 million payment to the fund, completing its 2014 payment on time.)

Last year, CPS officials insisted that they were draining their reserves to zero and that they desperately needed pension reform in order to continue funding schools.

Technically, CPS’ expenditures next year are $870 million more than its revenues.

As previously announced, the district is avoiding making major budget cuts by using a budget maneuver that will extend the "revenue recognition period" for a property tax payment for 60 days, moving it from July 30 to September 1. Because the first installment of the property taxes usually arrives in August, this will allow the school district to count $650 million scheduled to come in August 2015 in the 2015 budget, rather than the 2016 budget.

In addition to the $650 million, Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro says that the district has some money in reserves to fill the $120 million hole and have another $150 million to put in savings.  “We have been fortunate in recent years that we got some extra money that there was no knowing we would get so we could not count it.”

Ostro said that this maneuver will only work once and that the district still has a structural deficit. She said the only way out is for pension reform. However, Ostro and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett admitted that the district has a history of finding one-time funding to save the day.

“We should worry about next time,” Byrd-Bennett said. “There isn’t another one-time thing that we can think of.”

Meanwhile, the Illinois State Board of Education released its own budget this week, after Gov. Pat Quinn signed off on the Legislature’s $33.7 billion spending plan.

 The state schools budget of nearly $10 billion – of which some $6.8 billion comes from the general fund – changes little from last year. Earlier this year, ISBE had asked the Legislature consider increasing the state’s appropriation by an additional $1 billion, but lawmakers kept spending on schools flat. 

 The budget includes an additional $17.2 million for assessments and $13.1 million for district interventions. ISBE had asked for increases in several categories, including early childhood, bilingual, and homeless education, but the state maintained spending at last year’s levels.

 

Budget details still in short supply

July 2, 2014 - 5:44pm

CPS officials provided some details—though little new information--about next year’s budget on Wednesday afternoon, but have yet to release it. Sometime this evening, they say, it will be posted online.

The Board of Education will vote on the budget at its July 23 meeting, but officials did not announce any dates for public hearings on it. Once the actual budget is released, it will become clearer which schools will experience budget cuts and which departments the district will invest in most heavily. The $5.76 billion budget is slightly higher than last year's $5.69 billion budget.

Most of the new spending touted by officials on Wednesday has already been announced, such as $250 more in per-pupil spending for each student, the hiring of 84 art teachers and 84 gym teachers (with surpluse TIF funds in a district with more than 500 schools) and five new International Baccalaureate programs. The district also announced that it will spend $1 million to expand the Safe Passage program, but did not give details on where workers will be stationed and why the decision was made.

CPS is cutting $55 million from administration and operations, the smallest cut in at least five years. Central office will lose 20 staff positions, and the other cuts will be made by such moves as reducing “training vendors.”

Officials had warned that a pending $634 million required contribution to the teacher’s pension fund would mean a $1 billion deficit. (On June 27, the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund posted an announcement online that CPS had made a more than $585 million payment to the fund, completing its 2014 payment on time.)

Last year, CPS officials insisted that they were draining their reserves to zero and that they desperately needed pension reform in order to continue funding schools.

Technically, CPS’ expenditures next year are $870 million more than its revenues.

As previously announced, the district is avoiding making major budget cuts by using a budget maneuver that will extend the "revenue recognition period" for a property tax payment for 60 days, moving it from July 30 to September 1. Because the first installment of the property taxes usually arrives in August, this will allow the school district to count $650 million scheduled to come in August 2015 in the 2015 budget, rather than the 2016 budget.

In addition to the $650 million, Chief Financial Officer Ginger Ostro says that the district has some money in reserves to fill the $120 million hole and have another $150 million to put in savings.  “We have been fortunate in recent years that we got some extra money that there was no knowing we would get so we could not count it.”

Ostro said that this maneuver will only work once and that the district still has a structural deficit. She said the only way out is for pension reform. However, Ostro and CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett admitted that the district has a history of finding one-time funding to save the day.

“We should worry about next time,” Byrd-Bennett said. “There isn’t another one-time thing that we can think of.”

Meanwhile, the Illinois State Board of Education released its own budget this week, after Gov. Pat Quinn signed off on the Legislature’s $33.7 billion spending plan.

 The state schools budget of nearly $10 billion – of which some $6.8 billion comes from the general fund – changes little from last year. http://www.isbe.net/budget/fy15/fy15-budget.pdf Earlier this year, ISBE had asked the Legislature consider increasing the state’s appropriation by an additional $1 billion, but lawmakers kept spending on schools flat. http://www.isbe.net/budget/fy15/FY15-budget-book.pdf

 The budget includes an additional $17.2 million for assessments and $13.1 million for district interventions. ISBE had asked for increases in several categories, including early childhood, bilingual, and homeless education, but the state maintained spending at last year’s levels.

 

 

Coming July 7: Our take on the news

June 30, 2014 - 2:50pm

Next Monday, July 7, Catalyst Chicago will debut a renamed, revamped version of our daily “In the News” roundup. We’re calling it “Take 5,” and our goal is to give you a concise recap and analysis of the five news stories, opinion writing or other media coverage we think you will find most engaging, thought-provoking and useful. Check it out next week. Over the summer, we will publish on Monday and Thursday.; as the school year gets underway, we will publish daily. Meanwhile, follow us on Facebook and Twitter for news updates.

Coming July 7: Our take on the news

June 30, 2014 - 2:50pm

Next Monday, July 7, Catalyst Chicago will debut a renamed, revamped version of our daily “In the News” roundup. We’re calling it “Take 5,” and our goal is to give you a concise recap and analysis of the five news stories, opinion writing or other media coverage we think you will find most engaging, thought-provoking and useful. Check it out next week. Over the summer, we will publish on Monday and Thursday.; as the school year gets underway, we will publish daily. Meanwhile, follow us on Facebook and Twitter for news updates.

Comings and Goings: Easton, Fuller

June 30, 2014 - 2:06pm

John Q. Easton, director of the Institute of Education Sciences in Washington, D.C., will return to Chicago to take a position as Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Spencer Foundation. Easton, the former executive director and one of the founders of the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research, was nominated to head IES by President Barack Obama in 2009. At Spencer, Easton will play a lead role with the board and staff in developing a program of work on research-practice partnerships in education (similar to the Consortium, which works with Chicago Public Schools and is one of the nation’s leading research-practice partnerships). Easton will also serve as a collaborator in and advisor to various Spencer projects and activities. Easton has a doctorate from the University of Chicago.

Jerry Fuller, Executive Director of the Associated Colleges of Illinois, will join the James S. Kemper Foundation as its Executive Director on November 3. The Kemper Foundation promotes liberal arts education coupled with workplace experience as the basis for career preparation. Fuller served as head of ACI, a network of private colleges and universities that focuses on helping low-income, minority and first-generation students complete college, since 1995.

 

 

Comings and Goings: Easton, Fuller

June 30, 2014 - 2:06pm

John Q. Easton, director of the Institute of Education Sciences in Washington, D.C., will return to Chicago to take a position as Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Spencer Foundation. Easton, the former executive director and one of the founders of the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research, was nominated to head IES by President Barack Obama in 2009. At Spencer, Easton will play a lead role with the board and staff in developing a program of work on research-practice partnerships in education (similar to the Consortium, which works with Chicago Public Schools and is one of the nation’s leading research-practice partnerships). Easton will also serve as a collaborator in and advisor to various Spencer projects and activities. Easton has a doctorate from the University of Chicago.

Jerry Fuller, Executive Director of the Associated Colleges of Illinois, will join the James S. Kemper Foundation as its Executive Director on November 3. The Kemper Foundation promotes liberal arts education coupled with workplace experience as the basis for career preparation. Fuller served as head of ACI, a network of private colleges and universities that focuses on helping low-income, minority and first-generation students complete college, since 1995.

 

 

In the News: Karen Lewis "seriously thinking" of running for mayor

June 27, 2014 - 8:01am

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who blamed Mayor Rahm Emanuel for the more than 1,100 layoffs announced Thursday, said she is “seriously thinking” about mounting a mayoral run. A Sun-Times poll earlier this year put Lewis behind Emanuel and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who is running for her own reelection. Emanuel, meanwhile, has raised more than $7.4 million in his campaign. (Sun-Times)

RAUNER REDUX: It appears gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner can't go too long without facing questions about how his daughter got into an elite Chicago school. After initially being rejected in 2008 to Walter Payton College Prep because she didn't meet attendance requirements, Rauner's daughter later got in. Rauner's foundation later gave $250,000 to a school initiative. The money and Rauner's conversations with officials have led to allegations of clout. Now an outgoing Chicago Public Schools official says Rauner's daughter's overall admission score wasn't high enough. (State Journal-Register)

AFFLUENT PARENTS VS CPS: The Chicago Board of Education sat through its monthly tongue-lashing Wednesday, listening to speaker after speaker denounce their decision-making processes. But one group stood out: Affluent parents from Lincoln Park saying that CPS spends money on schools that are not the most in need. Talk about a reality check. (WBEZ)

 

IN THE NATION
PARENTS SAY TESTING A TIME SUCK: A new survey says parents think their kids spend too much time preparing for and taking exams. The annual Schooling in America Survey, released today by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and Braun Research, shows that 44 percent of parents think test prep takes too much time. Twenty-two percent of parents say their children don't spend enough time and 30 percent say they spend the right amount of time. More than six in 10 Americans also support vouchers, the survey says, with the most support coming from black parents at 74 percent and Hispanic parents at 72 percent. The Friedman Foundation, a school choice proponent, also noted that support for vouchers grew. In 2012, 56 percent of parents supported vouchers compared to 63 percent this year. The American Enterprise Institute is hosting a talk about the survey starting at 3 p.m. Eastern Time.

D.C. CONSIDERS GUARANTEED PRESCHOOL: The District of Columbia proposed an idea that appears to have strong support: guaranteeing access to pre-kindergarten for students who live in-bounds for high-poverty schools. (The Washington Post)

STUDENT DEBT DEBATE: A debate is raging about whether rising student-loan debt constitutes an existential crisis in American higher education or the natural outcome of more Americans' pursuing a college degree. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

WHO'S AT THE CHALKBOARD: A recent New Orleans high school graduate says the school district hires too many white teachers. (The News Tribune)

In the News: Affluent group chides CPS on spending choices

June 27, 2014 - 8:01am

The Chicago Board of Education sat through its monthly tongue-lashing Wednesday, listening to speaker after speaker denounce their decision-making processes. But one group stood out: Affluent parents from Lincoln Park saying that CPS spends money on schools that are not the most in need. Talk about a reality check. (WBEZ)

RAUNER REDUX: It appears gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner can't go too long without facing questions about how his daughter got into an elite Chicago school. After initially being rejected in 2008 to Walter Payton College Prep because she didn't meet attendance requirements, Rauner's daughter later got in. Rauner's foundation later gave $250,000 to a school initiative. The money and Rauner's conversations with officials have led to allegations of clout. Now an outgoing Chicago Public Schools official says Rauner's daughter's overall admission score wasn't high enough. (State Journal-Register)

LEWIS CONSIDERS A RUN: Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, who blamed Mayor Rahm Emanuel for the more than 1,100 layoffs announced Thursday, said she is “seriously thinking” about mounting a formal challenge to Emanuel.

IN THE NATION
PARENTS SAY TESTING A TIME SUCK: A new survey says parents think their kids spend too much time preparing for and taking exams. The annual Schooling in America Survey, released today by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and Braun Research, shows that 44 percent of parents think test prep takes too much time. Twenty-two percent of parents say their children don't spend enough time and 30 percent say they spend the right amount of time. More than six in 10 Americans also support vouchers, the survey says, with the most support coming from black parents at 74 percent and Hispanic parents at 72 percent. The Friedman Foundation, a school choice proponent, also noted that support for vouchers grew. In 2012, 56 percent of parents supported vouchers compared to 63 percent this year. The American Enterprise Institute is hosting a talk about the survey starting at 3 p.m. Eastern Time.

D.C. CONSIDERS GUARANTEED PRESCHOOL: The District of Columbia proposed an idea that appears to have strong support: guaranteeing access to pre-kindergarten for students who live in-bounds for high-poverty schools. (The Washington Post)

STUDENT DEBT DEBATE: A debate is raging about whether rising student-loan debt constitutes an existential crisis in American higher education or the natural outcome of more Americans' pursuing a college degree. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

WHO'S AT THE CHALKBOARD: A recent New Orleans high school graduate says the school district hires too many white teachers. (The News Tribune)

Layoffs of 1,150 teachers, school workers announced

June 26, 2014 - 5:08pm

Even before releasing next year’s proposed budget, CPS officials announced minimal details Thursday on plans to lay off 550 teachers and another 600 employees, such as clerical support staff and teaching assistants.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the cuts are directly related to projected declines in enrollment at many schools, although those projections have not been released. This year principals and local school councils (LSCs) were responsible for proposing their own cuts – which were then approved by CPS -- based on the district’s new per-pupil budgeting system. (Read a CPS fact sheet on the cuts.)

“It is difficult for schools that have sustained substantial enrollment decreases to avoid impact,” Byrd-Bennett said during a conference call with reporters. Still, she added, “this is the lowest number of impacts in the last five years.”

The district did not provide any information on which schools or job categories will be affected, or a racial breakdown of laid-off employees. It was unclear when that information would be provided, as not all teachers themselves had been officially notified. The district’s talent chief, Alicia Winckler, said principals were calling affected staff Thursday afternoon.

In a statement, Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis called the layoffs "yet another brutal attack on public education in Chicago."

"In a little over a year, CPS student-based budgeting has led to the removal of close to 5,000 teachers, teacher assistants, librarians, paraprofessionals and school-related personnel, technology coordinators and instructional aides from classrooms as severe cuts cause principals to make the difficult decisions that the district cannot," Lewis said in the statement.

Although the district did not provide any information on the schools that would lose employees, Winckler noted that 171 schools would not lose a single worker. She said only one-third of affected schools would lay off teachers; the remainder would be losing non-teaching personnel, ranging from clerks to security guards.

The layoffs come two months after CPS announced a budget miracle that would allow the district to claim an additional $70 million toward next year’s budget. Through an unusual accounting maneuver, CPS says it plans to borrow two months’ worth of property tax revenue from the 2015-16 school year, and start using it a year early. Board of Education president David Vitale – a banker – has defended the accounting gimmick, saying it would help CPS avoid massive layoffs. 

Thursday’s layoffs don’t include about 60 teachers whose jobs are on the line because of plans announced earlier this year to turnaround Gresham, Dvorak and McNair elementary schools. As part of the turnaround process, CPS hands over management duties to the non-profit teacher training program Academy for Urban School Leadership, which can rehire some of the laid-off staff.

Byrd-Bennett bristled at the use of the word “layoffs” to describe what would happen to the employees, explaining that CPS expects to rehire many of them in the coming months to fill vacancies opened up by retirements, resignations, turnover and new positions created at schools with higher enrollment.

At the same time 550 teachers are getting the pink slip, CPS officials said that another 1,780 teaching positions will be vacant by the end of this year. Last year, CPS rehired 68 percent of the same teachers it had laid off, including a majority of teachers laid off from closed schools, district officials said.

Comings and Goings: New CPS communications chief

June 26, 2014 - 4:59pm

Three months after the departure of CPS’s most recent communications chief, the Board of Education on Wednesday approved the hiring of a longtime communications executive from the corporate world to fill the high-pressure political job.

Ron Iori, who started his career in newspapers, says protecting “the brand and reputation of an organization is the hallmark of my work,” according to his LinkedIn profile. “My background in crisis management extends across a spectrum of short-term incidents (plane crashes, factory deaths, Firestone tire crisis) and perennial issues (prolonged financial distress, multiple executive departures over time, tax refund loans)."

His LinkedIn and company profiles indicate no previous experience working for government.

Iori was unavailable for comment on Thursday. He started earlier this week, said CPS spokesman Joel Hood, who was unable to provide Catalyst Chicago with a copy of his contract or salary on Thursday. Iori will oversee a department that is currently undergoing a reorganization but includes media relations, online, internal communications and speech writing components.

He replaces Becky Carroll, who was hired after the election of Mayor Rahm Emanual in 2011 and headed CPS communications during the tumultuous 2012 teacher strike and last year’s contentious school closures. Carroll left her post in March, after returning from maternity leave, and now heads a super PAC that intends to raise big bucks in support of Emanuel and his aldermanic allies, according to a recent report in Crain’s Chicago Business.

Iori has been based in Chicago, most recently as senior counselor of the Chicago-based communications firm, Iori Communications. He has worked in communications for a variety of companies, including Kaplan Higher Education and Ford Motor Co., according to his company profile.

His stints in journalism included the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and Cincinnati Post. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ohio University. He also holds an MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, as did former CPS schools chief Ron Huberman.

The proposal to hire Iori was not included in Wednesday’s agenda, but was voted on after the board’s closed-door session. State law allows public bodies to discuss personnel items behind closed doors, and to consider items that are not included on the agenda.

In the News: CPS librarians are a rare breed

June 26, 2014 - 8:20am

Staffing projections show more than half of Chicago Public School will lack a certified librarian next year, a CPS mom who's also a school librarian told the Chicago Board of Education Wednesday. But, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett told the board there’s a lack of qualified people to fill librarian jobs. She said the district is working with universities to determine who is on track to be certified (Sun-Times)

AN ODD ALLIANCE—FOR CHICAGO: In an odd and rarely seen alliance, Rainbow/PUSH joined with affluent North Side residents who oppose CPS’ planned $20-million expansion of Lincoln Elementary School.

DYETT PROTESTERS: In an extended display of protest at Wednesday's City Council meeting, a few dozen demonstrators stood up in four separate groups chanting about their displeasure over the closing of Dyett High School in Bronzeville. They chanted "Will Burns do your job" in demanding a hearing for the school with the alderman whose 4th Ward includes the school. (Tribune)

IN THE NATION
CHARTER CONVERSIONS LIFT CATHOLIC SCHOOLS: While conversions of Catholic schools to charters are rare, a number of schools have made the switch in recent years. A study this spring found enrollment grew dramatically following the change. (Education Week)

SEEKING AMENDMENT ON PUBLIC ED FUNDING: If Mississippi is going to move past its troubled history, it will take a renewed focus on education — and better funding of its public schools, advocates said Tuesday during  the Freedom Summer 50th anniversary conference. “Better Schools, Better Jobs: A Ballot Initiative” is seeking to pass an amendment to the state’s constitution that would require the state Legislature to fully fund K-12 public school education with no cost to taxpayers. (The Hechinger Report)

In the News: State task force report critical of CPS

June 25, 2014 - 7:40am

A highly critical report by a legislative task force said Chicago Public Schools’ 10-year facilities master plan was “deeply flawed, lacked broad public input, and wasn’t completed until after CPS closed 49 neighborhood public schools.” The report also criticized CPS for opening 33 new charter schools with more than 23,000 seats since 2011 even as it was closing publicly-run schools for underutilization. (Tribune)

On the positive side, the task force noted the steps CPS took last year to support student transitions during the closings.

READY FOR COURT: A Lincoln Park parents group plans to announce its intentions to go to court if the Chicago Zoning Department fails to block an expansion of Lincoln Elementary School. The parents say the plan is unsafe, wastes taxpayer money and violates city zoning laws and Chicago Public Schools guidelines. (Crain's/DNAinfo)

TEACHERS BACK ANTI-RAUNER PAC: An Illinois teachers group has given $325,000 to a group that opposes Republican Bruce Rauner's bid for governor. The Illinois Freedom PAC on Tuesday posted the sizable contribution from the Illinois Federation of Teachers COPE. (Sun-Times)

IN THE NATION
 EX-OBAMA AIDES VS. TEACHERS UNIONS: Two former aids to President Barack Obama will go up against teachers unions that are fighting to defend tenure laws against a coming blitz of lawsuits. The Incite Agency, founded by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, will lead a national public relations drive to support a series of lawsuits aimed at challenging tenure, seniority and other job protections that teachers unions have defended ferociously. LaBolt and another former Obama aide, Jon Jones — the first digital strategist of the 2008 campaign — will take the lead in the public relations initiative. (Politico)

HBCUs IN JEOPARDY: Enrollment declines, cuts to government financial aid, leadership controversies and heightened oversight are working together to threaten some historically black colleges in new ways and perhaps even jeopardize their existence. (Inside Higher Education)

FREE LUNCH EXPANSION: Thousands more students could be eating school lunch completely free starting next fall, thanks to a four-year-old federal program that is finally expanding to all 50 states. (Pew Stateline)

In the News: Charter schools seen as good investments

June 24, 2014 - 7:52am

Despite the problems with  UNO Charter Schools, Crain's is reporting that the bond market is still interested in charter schools. Even UNO, which is the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission action, is seen as a stable investment. Chicago International Charter Schools have the most bonds, followed by UNO and then Noble Street.

Catalyst, the Sun-Times and Tribune are reporting that first- and second-graders in Chicago Public Schools will be spared from school suspensions if proposed disciplinary changes are approved at this week’s Board of Education meeting. And so will students busted for chatting on cellphones in class.

LEAVING CPS: James Sullivan will resign as Chicago Public Schools’ inspector general at the end of this month, after 12 years of work. Sullivan, who earns $133,000 as IG, will join Sikich LLP, a professional services firm, to do fraud investigations. (Sun-Times)


IN THE NEWS
The Detroit Free Press has published the first part of a yearlong investigation on corruption and lack of oversight in the Michigan charter school sector. Among the findings:

  • Charter schools spend $1billion per year in state taxpayer money, often with little transparency.
  • Some charter schools are innovative and have excellent academic outcomes — but those that don’t are allowed to stay open year after year.
  • A majority of the worst-ranked charter schools in Michigan have been open 10 years or more.
  • Charter schools as a whole fare no better than traditional schools in educating students in poverty.
  • Michigan has substantially more for-profit companies running schools than any other state.
  • Some charter school board members were forced out after demanding financial details from management companies.
  • State law does not prevent insider dealing and self-enrichment by those who operate schools

REVIVING ART, MUSIC AND GYM: Milwaukee Public Schools is one of several school systems across the country — including Los Angeles, San Diego and Nashville, Tenn. — that are re-investing in subjects like art and physical education. The Milwaukee school district is hiring new specialty teachers with the hope of attracting more families and boosting academic achievement. (KERA News)

ELIMINATING FAFSA: Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Virginia) and Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) are co-sponsoring a bill to simplify the federal student aid system, eliminating the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. (Inside Higher Ed)

Student Code of Conduct set to change as district aims to curb discipline

June 23, 2014 - 5:46pm

Aiming to rein in one of the highest suspension and expulsion rates in the country, Chicago Public Schools is again set to revise its Student Code of Conduct with the goal of creating more uniformity in how schools handle discipline. 

Among the proposed changes:

--Elimination of the vaguely-defined “persistent defiance" as misbehavior for which students can be suspended or expelled. CPS officials say "persistent defiance" is used unevenly to justify harsh discipline, in some cases against students who shrugged their shoulders or threw pencils across desks.

--Children from pre-kindergarten to second grade could no longer be expelled without a network chief’s approval. In the past, only preschoolers and kindergarteners were excluded from expulsion, though records show they were still suspended.

--Another offense, "unintentional physical contract with school staff," would no longer warrant suspension. 

--Police would only need to be notified when students are found with drugs or guns on school grounds, or in emergency situations. The current policy lists 27 offenses for which police need to be notified, including participating in mob action and use of the CPS network to spread computer viruses.

--Unauthorized use of a cell phone would drop to the lowest category of offense.

 Activists and the Chicago Teachers Union said the changes are a step forward. But the real test will be whether the changes result in a fairer discipline process with fewer students being expelled or suspended, says Mariame Kaba, executive director of Project Nia, a community justice organization. She notes that there is still a lot discretion given to the principals.

Kaba points out CPS is not putting more money toward restorative justice practices or for interventions to prevent misbehavior. “For a number of years, I think there will be a tug and pull between the policy and the practice,” she says.

Since 2006, official CPS policy has called for schools to use restorative justice, but no extra money has been provided. Most of the work has been carried out by outside agencies and therefore comes and goes, Kaba says.

In a statement, the CTU applauded the changes but emphasized that CPS needs more social workers and counselors, as well as conflict resolution and restorative justice practices and a safe space for students to go within the school.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that principals will be required this summer to attend professional development on the new Student Code of Conduct and network chiefs will have to bring it up at each meeting. Further, she noted that principal evaluations hold them accountable for the climate of the school and the number of suspensions and expulsions speak to that climate.  

CPS has promised to release suspension and expulsion data for individual schools this year and has promised to continue to do so.  

Despite the fact that the Code of Conduct emphasizes restorative practices, Byrd-Bennett said that CPS had the strictest zero tolerance proposals she’s ever seen. Even when she was consulting with CPS as the chief education officer, she says was worried about it and started some internal discussions.

In 2009, Catalyst Chicago reported that CPS suspended 13 of every 100 students—a higher rate than all other big urban school districts, with black boys disproportionately the target. In 2012, CPS made some revisions to the student code of conduct.

Still, the number of suspensions went up to nearly 70,000 in the 2012-2013 school year, up from 67,512 in 2011-2012, with the biggest spike  among elementary school students. 

District officials say that preliminary data shows they are down this year to about 50,000 or about 14 of 100 students in district-run schools.

About 75 percent of students suspended are black, though they make up only about 40 percent of CPS students.

CPS only has expulsion data for charter schools, but not suspension data. The expulsion data show that charters expel three times the number of students as district-managed schools. Charter schools are allowed to have their own codes of conduct and most of the expelled charter school students would not be expelled by CPS. Therefore, they are allowed to enroll in a district-run school.

Byrd-Bennett says she is working with charter schools on collecting suspensions data and trying to get them to adopt the district’s code of conduct. So far, 10 of them have.  

 

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In the News: Ex-CPS communications chief takes new role

June 23, 2014 - 8:39am

Becky Carroll, who served as Mayor Rahm Emanuel's handpicked communications chief for Chicago Public Schools until a few months ago, has formed a Super PAC to support the re-election campaigns of the mayor and his City Council allies. (Sun-Times)

A play titled "Exit Strategy," set in a fictional Chicago high school that is slated for closure, got a rave review from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, after she saw it recently at the Jackalope Theatre. The show's been extended through June 29.

IN THE NATION
GREEN TEAMS: A New York City school composting program aims to help the environment, instill a sense of conservation in schoolchildren, and, critically, save some money. (The New York Times)

SUPPORTING GRADUATES: First lady Michelle Obama, who is leading a national push for more low-income students to attend college, addressed hundreds of D.C. high school graduates who participated in the D.C. College Access Program — an organization that dedicated to boosting the number of District students who go to and get through college.  (The Washington Post)

FLORIDA VOUCHER EXPANSION: Middle-income families in Florida will get a chance to receive a private-school voucher under a significant expansion of the state's existing program signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott. (Education Week)

In the News: D.C. suspends test-based teacher evals

June 20, 2014 - 7:06am

The District of Columbia public school system, one of the first in the country to evaluate teachers using student test scores, announced Thursday that it would suspend the practice while students adjust to new tests based on Common Core standards. (Associated Press)

UNAWARE OF COMMON CORE: A MSN/Wall Street Journal poll, released this week, shows that 47 percent of the 1,000 adults surveyed have not heard of the Common Core Standards. Of those who have, only 22 percent said they'd heard a lot about it. The remaining 30 percent said they'd heard "some." (Education Week)

VOUCHER FOES: A wide range of parent groups, teachers' unions, and civil rights groups are mounting an all-out offensive to convince Florida Gov. Rick Scott to veto a bill that would broaden the reach of the state's school voucher program. The groups believe the legislation will siphon much-needed funds away from the state's financially struggling public schools. (Education Week)

SEEKING MONEY: The Philadelphia superintendent of schools made a last-minute plea for funding this week to city and state lawmakers, saying he needs at least an additional $96 million to offer students even a “wholly inadequate” education next year. (The New York Times)

MANDATORY KINDERGARTEN: All 5-year-olds in Buffalo, N.Y., will be required to attend kindergarten under legislation that received final approval from the State Legislature on Wednesday. The move, advocates say, will both boost early learning and eventually help improve high school graduation rates. (The Buffalo News)

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