Illinois Senate OKs school funding revamp with boost for Chicago

Reuters News
Posted: May 10, 2016 6:36 PM

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Illinois' Democrat-controlled Senate on Tuesday passed a bill to revamp the way the state funds K-12 public schools over the objections of Republicans, who labeled it a bailout for the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

The measure, which passed in a 31-21 vote, now moves to the Democrat-controlled House, which is working on its own plan.

The bill's sponsor, Democratic Senator Andy Manar, said it was time to rip up Illinois' nearly 20-year-old funding formula, replacing it with one that ensures school districts with high percentages of poor students get an adequate and equitable share of state money.

"Our system today in the state is broken. It is rotten. It is not based on any level of equity," Manar said.

Per-student funding in Illinois can range from $6,000 to $30,000, largely depending on a district's local property tax base, according to Manar.

But some Republicans said the bill would result in a windfall for CPS at the expense of other districts.

"It can't be the Chicago Public Schools getting $700 million from kids in every other district around this state," said Republican Senator Jason Barickman.

He added the bill carves out millions of dollars in grants and allocates a $205 million pension "bailout" for CPS.

A per district funding breakdown from Senate Democrats showed CPS getting a nearly $175 million increase under the bill.

The country's third-largest school system is facing a $1 billion budget deficit largely fueled by escalating pension payments.

CPS is the only Illinois school district not in the statewide Teachers' Retirement System, which is heavily subsidized by the state.

CPS officials have lashed out at the current funding formula, calling it discriminatory as they push for more state funds.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said a House task force on school funding should be completing its work in the next week or so.

"We're trying to work on our own efforts here," Brown said. "I'm sure this (Senate bill) will be part of the effort."

On Monday, Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, called on lawmakers to put their energies behind a fiscal 2017 school funding bill to ensure districts can open in the fall. After that is done, he said he is committed to reworking the state's school funding formula on a bipartisan basis.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog, editing by G Crosse)