School funding bill that would help CPS passes Illinois Senate

SHARE School funding bill that would help CPS passes Illinois Senate
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Illinois Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, speaks to reporters while on the Senate floor during session Thursday, March 17, 2016, in Springfield. | AP photo

A school funding bill that revamps the funding formula — and one dubbed a Chicago Public Schools “bailout” by several Republicans — narrowly passed the Illinois Senate on Tuesday.

State Sen. Andy Manar’s bill passed 31-21, and now heads to the Illinois House, where members are working on their own plan. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has formed a House task force to do its own review of school funding.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Tuesday that the task force will “take the best elements of the Manar plan and try to incorporate them.”

On the Illinois Senate floor, Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, called his bill “the most profound anti-poverty measure” lawmakers could take and a “down payment to getting this right.”

“This bill will attack poverty in the classroom,” Manar said of the bill, which revamps the school funding formula for the first time in nearly 20 years. It’s aimed at replacing the existing formula with one in which school districts with high poverty levels and low property values get a fair share of state aid.

“Our current formula is flawed because it’s not based on need. It’s not based on equity. It’s based on ZIP code,” Manar said.

Although many school districts lose money under the formula, the bill includes a “hold harmless” provision to ensure districts don’t lose money in the first year. That would be phased out over four years to allow the districts to adjust to getting less state aid. In effect, it buys the state time to come up with more funding for schools.

Many Senate Republicans worried downstate school districts would suffer under the plan, just so Chicago could get more help as the district faces a $1 billion budget deficit caused by massive pension payments.

State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, called the bill a Chicago bailout and said it provides “special favors” for CPS: about $205 million in pension relief.

“This is a bill that creates a windfall. It creates a windfall that’s been characterized as a bailout. We all know the financial pressure that faces the Chicago Public Schools and the city of Chicago and the taxpayers that live there and the students who go to school there,” Barickman said. “I’m one downstate Republican who’s saying I’m willing to help on that, but it can’t be a bailout. . . . This isn’t the fix that millions of students around this entire state want and deserve.”

Under Manar’s plan, CPS would receive $175 million more than in the previous year. But Manar fought back, citing examples in which other school districts receive more under his plan, such as Beardstown and Galesburg.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday applauded the vote, calling it “a step in the right direction to ensure that more children in Chicago and across our state who come from families of economic need have the educational resources that they deserve.”

“For too long, children growing up in poverty who needed the most help received least support, especially compared to children from wealthier circumstances,” Emanuel said in a statement. “That is a shameful wrong which must be fixed.”

Both CPS and the Chicago Teachers Union also applauded the bill’s passage. CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said it moves Chicago students “toward equality with their peers around the state, since they are 20 percent of the state’s students but receive only 15 percent of the state’s funding.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday urged lawmakers to send an education budget bill to his desk, rather than rework the school funding formula first. Rauner’s office had no comment about Manar’s bill passage in the Senate.

Rauner also said Monday that it would make him “uncomfortable” to support a plan that takes money from other districts. But he hasn’t outright said he would veto Manar’s bill if it makes it to his desk.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said people in the state are frustrated with the impasse and want to see leaders act with “courage.”

“I would recommend the House get behind this proposal, and Governor Rauner should show leadership and make this legislation a priority if he is truly interested in turning Illinois around,” Cullerton said in a statement.

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