Illinois is a deadbeat when it comes to funding kindergarten through 12th grade education. That’s no secret. It has the most inequitable funding system in the country. Poor kids here finish last.
It is also no secret that a solid education is a road out of poverty for kids and the best way to fight crime. Chicago could use more of that.
This is hardly breaking news. Legislators know it. Gov. Bruce Rauner, who styles himself a champion of education, knows it, too. The Legislature and governor agree there is an urgent need to fix the state’s embarrassingly inadequate school funding formula, even as they squabble over that other big priority in Illinois — the dire need to pass a state budget.
Now, after years of failed efforts, a bill to more fairly fund education has made it through the Legislature. We urge Rauner to sign Senate Bill 1 when it lands on his desk. A zip code should never dictate a child’s lot in life.
The bill, proposed by Democratic Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill, meets standards set earlier this year by a bipartisan school funding reform commission overseen by Secretary of Education Beth Purvis, a Rauner appointee. It is based on the commission’s premise that “low-income children and those who live in areas of concentrated poverty require additional resources and attention to reach their academic potential.”
Under Manar’s bill, each school district from the outset would receive the same state funding it got for the 2016-2017 school year. If the state falls short with funding, which has happened all too often in recent years, schools that serve mostly poor kids and children with special needs would be spared from cuts. Wealthier schools would be more likely to take the hit first. That would put more pressure on lawmakers to maintain adequate funding, which would be excellent.
If the state comes through with additional funding — and that should be the ultimate goal despite the current budget crisis — the new dollars would go to schools that need the money most. To do that adequately, according to an analysis by the Illinois State Board of Education, the state must contribute an additional $350 million.
That would give sizable, overdue increases in funding over time to struggling school districts serving such cities as Cicero, Aurora and Waukegan. Downstate schools in Centralia, Prairie Du Rocher, Rantoul and Vienna also would gain significant funding. Even the wealthiest schools would see increases, albeit small ones.
Chicago Public Schools — where 80 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged, 17 percent are English learners and 14 percent have specialized education plans — also stands to make gains. That’s a sticking point for Rauner and other Republicans who call this bill a bailout of CPS.
The district would receive $221 million for an existing pension payment and a credit of $500 million to account for legacy pension costs. CPS currently is the only public school district paying its own pension costs. The state covers all others. This plan would put CPS on “equal footing” with other school districts, says Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.
Rauner is at war politically with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Democrats. CPS is a bargaining chip in the governor’s quest to push through other structural reforms in Illinois.
But none of that should matter. Gov. Rauner has a historic chance to stand up in a big way for Illinois school children.
And no kid should ever be collateral damage.
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