A school bus drives by the Jean De LaFayette Elementary School in Chicago.
A school bus drives by the Jean De LaFayette Elementary School in Chicago. - 
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Chicago's public schools released a budget this week with a billion-dollar hole in it. That's after counting borrowing that the district's CEO called "unsustainable" and a half billion in assistance from the politically gridlocked state government. Without that aid, CEO Forrest Claypool warned to expect still more borrowing and deeper cuts. 

The school district is like "that" family — the one with the jumbo mortgage and maxed-out credit cards. That image sounds about right to Laurence Msall, director of the Civic Federation, who has been watching public budgets here for more than a dozen years.

Msall adds a layer to the family metaphor: "They're still getting credit card applications in the mail, which they're happy to fill out."

As the debts pile up, payments get more expensive: There’s more principal, and a sinking credit rating drives up interest rates.

"Doomsday is here," Msall says. "Taxpayers are going to have to pay more for less benefit from their government."

That means bigger class sizes and fewer services for students, which is what Philadelphia's schools have experienced for the past several years.

Kate Shaw, executive director of Research for Action, a Philadelphia-based education policy think tank, says, "Yes, we have seen what that does to a school district, and we've seen what that does to a city. And it’s not pretty."

Among other things, she cites declining test scores, higher truancy and stalled graduation rates.

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Follow Dan Weissmann at @danweissmann