Suburban state rep. accuses CPS of taking more than its fair share of state school grants

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 10/09/2013, 05:55pm

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Western suburban State Rep. Sandy Pihos (R-Glen Ellyn) wants to prevent Chicago Public Schools from taking more than what she calls its fair share in state block grants, so she filed several bills she hopes will keep that from happening again.

The state’s largest school district was overpaid by nearly $235 million for the 2011-12 school year in state block grants, she said.

“I was shocked to learn of this gigantic error in grant funding,” said Pihos, who sits on the Appropriations Committee for Elementary & Secondary Education, on her web site. “With education dollars in short supply and high demand, it troubles me greatly to know that CPS received almost double the amount of grant funds that their report claimed was deserved.”

Pihos’ three bills seek more accountability. She blames the system by which the state money gets sent to CPS and CPS for failing to report how it’s spent the money as spelled out in the Illinois School Code. Other school districts submit for reimbursement for their services but CPS gets its block grant money up front and then is supposed to account for how the district spent it, she said.

“For 2011-2012 CPS received $483.7 million in block grants, but provided only $249 million in student benefits,” she said. “Whether it was an overpayment of funds or a situation where promised services were never delivered, the taxpayers of Illinois and the students from every other Illinois school district were shortchanged.”

CPS only recently had to report its block grant spending, which is how, Pihos said, the discrepancy was discovered.

Here are the basics behind Pihos’ bills:

One (HB3691) would require CPS to submit claims for funding for special education students instead of getting money up front. In 2011-12, CPS received $222.8 million more for special ed than actual claims, according to the legislation.

The second (HB3692) would withhold all federal and state funding to CPS should the district not comply with reporting procedures required for block grants until CPS fulfills its requirements.

And the third (HB3690) would repeal CPS’ preset block grant allocation and require the district to submit spending claims to the state board of education as other 800-plus districts statewide do.

Bills involving CPS would typically need the support of House Speaker Mike Madigan and/or Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett responded in a statement:
“This effort misrepresents the facts and deflects responsibility from the core issue Springfield must tackle to provide fair funding to every school in Illinois – comprehensive pension reform. CPS faces a billion dollar deficit in large part driven by a $400 million increase in its annual pension contribution, which amounts to 1,000 dollars a year that could be going directly to our classrooms. Every child deserves access to a quality education, and we should be collectively working to provide more – not less – funding for our local schools and our students.”

In a report released in March, Illinois Republicans made similar claims accusing CPS of taking more than its fair share of school funding.

Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) said CPS took in a net $668 million more in state money than if the district filed for funding per pupil.

“We’re not here to ignite a regional war over school funding fairness,” said Radogno at the time. “And we certainly recognize the very real challenges every school district in Illinois is facing.”

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