Editorial: Stop stalling on school funding for kids

SHARE Editorial: Stop stalling on school funding for kids

A Chicago Public Schools budget slide urges Gov. Bruce Rauner to fix Illinois’ broken school funding model during a presentation by CPS finance chief Ron DeNard last week for the Chicago Board of Education. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

Follow @csteditorialsThe last thing Illinois needs is another task force to study how to pay for public schools.

Been there, done that.

But the Illinois House is at it again. Speaker Michael Madigan has created a task force — that’s right, another one — less than a month after a bipartisan commission assembled by Gov. Bruce Rauner came up with “framework” for a new state school funding formula.

Stop stalling. Seriously, people, cut it out. It is insulting to children who live in poverty and go to third-rate schools that barely give them a chance. Our state’s current formula has shortchanged the poorest schools for decades, and that is no secret. Nor is the solution. It’s just hard.

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Illinois lawmakers have talked about reinventing the formula to fund public education for at least 20 years. That’s all it has been — talk. Laws for new formulas have been proposed and dumped. Task forces have coughed up ideas that have gone nowhere.

In the meantime, kids pay the price. Chicago Public Schools is so broke that some schools are struggling to buy toilet paper.

When CPS froze principals’ discretionary spending — money spent on line items ranging from bathroom tissue to hourly aides — majority Hispanic schools lost at twice the rate of schools that serve mostly white students, the Sun-Times Lauren FitzPatrick reported last week. Schools with mostly African-American students also were hit hard.

Those schools also are the poorest. They can’t make up shortfalls in discretionary spending by charging student fees and asking parents to hold fundraisers, which are options for schools with students that are better off.

After prominent Hispanic city leaders criticized the Chicago Board of Education for hitting Hispanic schools the hardest, CPS announced Friday it will return $15 million in frozen funds to high-poverty schools. But that increases the district’s budget deficit to $129 million.

CPS is suing the state for more funding. It could also get relief through a “grand bargain” budget deal being negotiated in the Illinois Senate. But the funds can’t come soon enough.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, who will lead the new commission, is optimistic this group will come up with legislation for funding reform by May 31, the last day of the legislative session. Rauner’s bipartisan commission, she argued, provided a “framework” but no actual legislation for consideration.

“There were questions about how adequate the framework was,” Currie told us.

In a letter sent earlier this month to Illinois Education Secretary Beth Purvis, who led Rauner’s bipartisan commission, Currie and three other Democrats said the framework did not “properly recognize that Illinois’ current school funding system is broken, in large part, because of overreliance on property taxes.”

In the letter, Currie said, “Unless a truly massive infusion of state resources can be provided to our schools, Illinois will continue to be regressive compared to states with less property tax reliance.” Additionally, Currie says not enough attention was placed on extra funding for schools in areas of concentrated poverty.

The bottom line is that Illinois will have to come up with billions more to properly fund education. That makes everyone in Springfield — Democrats and Republicans alike — nervous.

We don’t need another study. We need political courage.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com

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