Lawmakers call school funding bill a Chicago ‘bailout’

SHARE Lawmakers call school funding bill a Chicago ‘bailout’
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Illinois state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, speaks to reporters at a news conference on education funding earlier this year at the state capitol in Springfield. | AP photo

A downstate Democrat’s plan to change the school funding formula hit a major snag on Wednesday after Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration released figures ahead of an Illinois Senate vote that showed Chicago Public Schools would be receiving millions more than other school districts.

State Sen. Andy Manar’s proposal to shift money from wealthier districts to poorer ones faces an uphill battle as the state figures added fuel to a fire over what has been a contentious school funding formula battle.

Senate Republicans continue to call Manar’s bill a Chicago “bailout” at the expense of downstate and suburban school districts. And they want more collaboration with both Rauner and the Illinois State Board of Education.

The board of education released figures on Manar’s bill on Tuesday, with the Senate vote originally planned for Wednesday. Manar, from Bunker Hill, has said he submitted information to the state on Feb. 11.

Rauner’s office wouldn’t comment on the timing of the board report. A state board source called running figures on Manar’s bill a “heavy lift.”

In the first state calculation, CPS received $352 million more than it was budgeted to receive this year. With those numbers, Senate Republicans called his plan a “step backward.”

“The data shows what many of us have feared — that his legislation has become a vehicle for a major bailout of the bankrupt Chicago school system, while wildly shifting funding around suburban communities and creating a detrimental impact on downstate schools,” said state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington.

Manar filed an amendment to his bill on Wednesday, which changed those calculations, and led to the state issuing new funding calculations. In those projections, CPS would get $174.9 million more next year. That’s a 14.1 percent increase or $496.90 per student more than was budgeted for this school year.

During a Senate Executive Committee hearing later Wednesday, Manar said his amendment removed the costs of CPS’ “legacy” pension, but that it still provides $200 million to pick up the normal costs of Chicago teacher pensions.

Manar’s bill has the support of CPS, which has been fighting for equal funding for years.

“The need to fix this inequity is urgent and vital to the future of Chicago’s students,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said. “Senator Manar’s legislation to reform the broken funding formula is an important first step in fixing this basic injustice, and we continue to support his measure because the current formula shortchanges not only Chicago but low-income students around the state.”

Manar’s bill still includes $400 million in funding to ensure that no school district loses money. That funding would be phased out over four years to allow districts to plan for reductions in state aid.

Manar also argued that the state’s projections didn’t account for $300 million in increased state spending.

Barickman said Manar’s amendment doesn’t change his perspective.

“I still think it’s a bailout of Chicago at the expense of students everywhere else in the state,” Barickman said, adding it’ll take bipartisanship to get a school funding formula passed, something he says Manar’s bill is lacking.

“I don’t view this as a Republican-Democrat thing. I think there is considerable opposition likely in the House,” Barickman said. “How do we move forward? I think you have to have both chambers. I think you have to have both parties, the administration, and the educational community, which are the stakeholders to all of this.”

Rauner has said he won’t support a bill that pits school districts against each other. He favors a plan that would give districts at least the same amount of money they currently get.

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