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Chicago schools rescind $18 million cut, pushing budget gap to $129 million

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Chicago Public Schools (CPS) said on Friday it will return $18 million in funding cuts to certain schools in a move that will increase the cash-strapped district’s lingering budget deficit to $129 million.

High-poverty schools will receive $15 million of the previously cut money and $3 million will be returned to charter schools, according to the district.

“CPS has not identified a funding stream to pay for these changes,” the district said in a statement. “This increases the district’s remaining budget deficit from $111 million to $129 million.”

The nation’s third-largest public school system earlier this month froze $46 million in discretionary funds schools generally use to pay for textbooks, technology and field trips to help offset a loss of $215 million in state money.

The district acknowledged the reductions were not evenly distributed. Local media had reported that schools with predominantly Hispanic or poor students were allocated bigger cuts than schools with white majorities.

“After the freeze was announced, we heard strong concerns from members of both the African American and Hispanic communities,” CPS officials said in a Friday letter to school principals. “While we cannot make this freeze equal in all schools, we want to be responsive to those concerns and mitigate the most disproportionate impacts.”

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto in December of $215 million in one-time funding for teacher pensions blew a hole in the district’s fiscal 2017 budget. On Wednesday, the Chicago Board of Education amended the budget to incorporate $104 million in spending cuts and unpaid furlough days, leaving a $111 million gap in the $5.41 billion spending plan.

CPS is struggling with pension payments that will jump to $733 million this fiscal year from $676 million in fiscal 2016, as well as drained reserves and debt dependency.

Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Chris Reese