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Chicago: CPS aides increase from 4,500 to 6,800 over five years

Dec 5, 2023, WBEZ, Chicago, IL: Personal aides for students are the unsung heroes of special education in CPS

Every few minutes, the eighth grader gets distracted and her aide, Elsa Delgado, gently prods her to stay focused. “Read it out loud,” Delgado tells her. And when the student writes an answer to a question, Delgado encourages her: “Yes, that’s good.”

With time, Delgado is confident she can help this girl succeed this school year and put her on a better trajectory. “We do the little things that make a big thing,” Delgado says.

Delgado works as a special education aide in the junior high program at Kelvyn Park High School in the Hermosa neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest side. She spends all day, everyday shadowing her assigned students. Some years, it is just one. This year, she has three.

Schools rely on tens of thousands employees like Delgado across many fields to keep buildings and classrooms running smoothly. And much like teachers, they’re often underappreciated and overworked.

But they play a vital role, especially in special education. Chicago Public Schools has spent years trying to improve its services and aides are a key part. When the school system’s special education program was put under state corrective action in 2018, it was partly because CPS made it difficult to get support from aides included in students’ individualized education plans. Those plans lay out the supports students with disabilities need to get an appropriate education.

CPS was trying to cut costs and, though aides are not highly paid, assigning a full-time staffer to a small number of children is expensive.

Over the last five years, the number of aides has gone up more than any other position in special education, except for case managers, which went from being an extra responsibility for teachers to a stand-alone position. There are now about 6,800 aide positions in the school district, up from 4,500 in 2018. The cost also has nearly doubled, from $150 million in 2018 to nearly $280 million.

But CPS and school districts across the country have trouble filling these positions. About 500 CPS aide positions, or 7% were vacant, as of Nov. 1, according to CPS. This means many students aren’t getting all the support they need and aides are likely stretched thin….

With state funding, Palenque last year formalized the program to help parent mentors become aides and already has helped 132 parent mentors get credentialed….

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Why I'm eternally grateful I was pulled out of middle school and never went to high school, if I had to attend H.S. I would've h.u.n.g myself due to ASD-related and U.S. cultural related extreme PTSD. One of my relatives (who had both doses of the Trump thing - I never had any) had severe mouth inflammation after the Trump shots,…

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