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Chicago Public Schools Bailout Bill at Heart of Illinois Education Funding Debate

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State Sen. Matt Murphy (R) charged that 100 Chicago schools have so few students they are nothing but “adult employment centers” as he fought a losing battle against legislation he branded a “bailout” for the city’s public school system.

Illinois Democrats and Republicans are locked in a legislative budget battle over the share of state education dollars going to Chicago Public Schools as compared to their suburban and rural counterparts.

Democrats, most of whom are from metro Chicago and dominate the Illinois Legislature, obviously have a vested interest in the CPS.

Suburban and downstate lawmakers, many of whom owe their allegiance to the GOP, are tied just as tightly to their home school systems.

However, it is more than a typical urban vs. suburban/rural budget squabble that could be seen in almost any of the 50 states. This one could shut down public education in the next fiscal year if Illinois lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) aren’t able to come up with a compromise in just a few days.

Murphy argued against SB 231, which would increase CPS funding by $375 million in the next school year, on the Senate floor.

“We have got a Chicago public school system that will not be required to reform itself at all. We’ve got no mandate relief to make running schools less expense, we have no TIF reform to go right at the heart of abuses over the years,” said Murphy. “Ladies and gentlemen, the other thing we have here is a bill that changes the formula and gives the CPS 24 percent more money in FY 17 than they got in FY 16.”

“You can say that is not a bailout of Chicago. But if it walks like a duck, ladies and gentlemen, it is a bailout,” he added.

Sen. Andy Manar (D), who sponsored SB 231, takes this very personally. He responded to a woman who used the phrase “bailout for CPS” on his Facebook page.

“Vast majority of downstate students gain funding. That’s a fact. There are many school districts downstate they gain proportionally per student much larger than Chicago. No one is calling this the ‘Beardstown’ bailout,” Manar wrote. “But Beardstown benefits to a much greater degree than Chicago does. It’s all politics, political rhetoric, which doesn’t help solve the problem.”

Still, Manar agreed with those who believe business as usual should not continue in the CPS.

“This (SB 231) is progress towards fixing the worst system of school finance in the country,” he wrote.

The bill now goes to the State House, where it faces another divisive debate.

Republican State Rep. Ron Sandack on his website called it “the Springfield version of the movie ‘Groundhog Day.’”

“Any way you look at it, it’s still an attack on DuPage Schools,” he wrote.

“Every year at this time Democrat Senator Andy Manar emerges with his latest version of what he calls school funding reform and every year it’s the same thing — a massive shift of funds away from suburban schools and toward Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and some downstate schools. In this latest version, 2/3 of Illinois schools lose state funding,” Sandack wrote.

However, Jacksonville School District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek told WLDS-WEAI Radio he feels the state has faced a lack of equity in educational funding, based on the income of the population of each community. The richer get better schools.

The Chicago Tribune reported state funding per student in Illinois ranged from about $6,000 in low-income areas to as much as $30,000 in affluent communities.

“Senate Bill 231 is an attempt to adjust the state aid formula, after decades of analyzing its effectiveness, to make more equitable funding possible across the state. If we are going to have a state that treats students equally, it has to happen,” said Ptacek.

Ptacek said the notion that Senate Bill 231 is a Chicago Public Schools bailout couldn’t be further from the truth.

His district could gain $450,000 to $700,00 in additional state funding if Gov. Rauner signs the legislation.

No matter what happens in the House, though, the Chicago Tribune’s Ted Slowik wrote Ptacek shouldn’t lose any sleep figuring out how to spend that money.

“Manar’s plan is doomed,” Slowik wrote. “For one, Gov. Bruce Rauner and most Republicans oppose the plan, as do some Democrats. The Senate lacks the muscle to override a veto, even if the House were to approve the plan, which appears unlikely.”

Gov. Rauner is backing a plan that would increase funding under the current formula, but would redistribute state money based on enrollment, poverty level, and property values.

“Since day one, I have been committed to building a world-class education system in Illinois that ensures every child goes to a high-quality school and can go on to a high-paying career. Fully funding our schools is a step closer to making that a reality,” Rauner said.

Is compromise possible?

House Speaker Michael Madigan (D) has assembled a task force to study the funding issue, but it has yet to produce a single proposal.

Political concerns about Chicago Public Schools getting an unfair share of the state’s education dollar aside, the budget impasse has left several downstate school district superintendents wondering if they’ll have enough money to do much of anything.

Summer school was canceled in Galesburg, Ill., schools because of the budget impasse. School officials sent out a letter that read in part, “Due to budget constraints and the uncertainty of a State budget to fund schools for 2016-2017, the District will not be offering summer school programs for grades K-5 this year.”

KWQC-TV reported the superintendents of nine school districts in Regional Office of Education 33 are worried about not being able to provide classes for special education students. Some even raised the possibility of being forced to close their systems for the coming school year.

The CPS is worried, too. Chicago Public Schools building principals were directed to prepare for budget cuts of up to 30 percent if SB 231 is not approved.

The Illinois Legislature deadline to pass a budget is May 31.