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Superintendents of 15 school districts ask Rauner to ‘rise above’

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool (right) and Gov. Bruce Rauner | File photos

Fifteen superintendents from some of Illinois’ poorest school districts are asking Governor Bruce Rauner to “rise above political games” and to stop pitting “school districts against each other in an unnecessary competition for insufficient resources.”

“We expect the Governor of the entire state to rise above political games to put all of our children’s futures before politics,” read the letter sent Monday whose signatories counted Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool. “However, instead of suggesting reforms that reflect the economic diversity of Illinois, your proposal continues to put a greater burden on the districts supporting our most vulnerable students.”

In an ongoing tussle over state school funding, the superintendents who lead districts with a majority of low-income students reminded Rauner that their schools will surely be among those unable to open in the fall without money from the state. Their districts cannot afford to run schools on property tax income alone.

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“This is a disaster that plagues districts across Illinois; it is not a Downstate vs. Chicago, or a city vs. suburban issue, but rather a statewide problem,” wrote the leaders of districts whose districts are made up of between 55 percent and 90 percent poor students.

CPS has been asking for a fairer funding formula that supports districts with concentrated poverty. Meanwhile, the state’s largest district is on the hook for a $676 million pension payment at the end of the month as it stares down a $1 billion budget shortfall projected for the next school year.

Illinois is in its 12th month without a budget, and while the state specifically allocated funding for schools last year, the General Assembly adjourned last week without passing any school spending plan. Several Democrat-sponsored measures failed at the last minute, which would have given CPS additional hundreds of millions in state aid.

Republican leadership has introduced legislation that would hold all districts harmless from last year’s allocations, and Rauner has promised to sign this legislation immediately. That legislation would save CPS from a planned $74 million in cuts, the governor’s office has said, due to drops not only in overall enrollment in Chicago but in enrollment of low-income students, too.

Speaking Monday in Chicago, Rauner said he also wants to fix the school funding formula.

“The current school funding formula is not good. I have never supported it. It was put in place in 2003. The last time the school funding formula was updated and changed was in 2003 by Speaker Madigan, president of the Senate Emil Jones and Rod Blagojevich. … I don’t like it. I’m willing to change it. The Democrats and Speaker Madigan has not shown much interest in changing the school funding formula for the the last, what’s it been, 13 years. I’m willing to change it. It’s hard to do. But it would be wrong, would be unfair is to say to the schoolchildren of the state, ‘Let’s not let the schools open unless the formula changes, and changes in a way that gets tremendously more money for Chicago. That’s not fair. It’s not right, and that’s not what should happen.”

Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Wednesday for a special session in which a higher threshold of votes will be required to pass new laws.

Superintendents’ Letter