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Claypool rebuts Rauner: CPS kids get a 'raw deal' not 'special deal'

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool at a Chicago Board of Education meeting last month. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday singled out financially strapped Chicago Public Schools for benefitting financially from a “special deal” in state funding.

But Chicago schools chief Forrest Claypool called it a “raw deal,” and departing from his usual insistence that Chicago gets the short end of the stick, began playing up the school funding issue as a statewide problem for many communities he repeatedly named as serving poor students.

In his budget address to legislators in the state capital, Rauner pitted the state’s largest district against the rest of Illinois: “Not only did Chicago Public Schools ask for the current arrangement, they are benefiting from a special deal. CPS receives an extra $600 million more every year than school districts with similar student demographics. Any school funding reform proposal that involves taking money from one school district and giving it to another, is doomed to fail.”

His office did not say which districts compare to CPS.

But Claypool fired back from CPS headquarters in Chicago: “I don’t know what a special deal it is when you get a fraction of what children in the rest of the state receive even when they’re 86 percent low income, 85 percent minority.

“That’s not a special deal, that’s a raw deal.”

Even Rauner’s proposal to increase General State Aid across the board would still result in a $23 million reduction to CPS, Claypool said.

“He today made it clear that he was going to do nothing to change the fundamental inequity in school funding throughout the state of Illinois,” Claypool said. “He proposed nothing additional or new for low income children throughout the state, whether they are in Chicago, Decatur, Taylorville, Aurora, North Chicago, Elgin.”

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Rauner wants to consider all funding issues when proposing a better formula that’d make funding more equitable across the board.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, Rauner administration officials agreed that CPS is treated differently — and worse — when it comes to teacher pensions. But the administration also cited special education block grants, where CPS gets $250 million more than if treated like others, and the corporate personal property replacement tax, saying “well over” 20 percent of the total dollars collected goes to CPS.

CPS also receives a higher percentage of total funding for impoverished students through the poverty grant which is built into the education funding formula, the official said.

But Claypool says CPS loses when all funding, including pension contributions, is tallied. He’s asked Springfield in vain for pension help, saying that Chicago’s kids lose out when state taxpayers, including Chicago’s, kick in for pensions for all teachers except Chicago’s. Claypool also repeated his “20-20-20: mantra, saying Chicago’s schoolchildren and taxpayers make up 20 percent of the state’s, but students get less that 15 percent of state funding. The district’s current budget was passed with a built-in reliance on legislators for $480 million.

Meanwhile, CPS has cut staff and programs, borrowed some $725 million in high-interest bonds to get through the current school year and plans more layoffs this month.

Powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) also defended CPS because of its concentrated poor, minority and immigrant children.

“Take it all together, the district deserves special attention, special consideration,” Madigan said. “The governor and the Republican leaders in the legislature have filed legislation that in my judgment would be a bailout proposal for the Chicago school system. They disagree with that. And they apparently aren’t real happy when I talk in terms of that legislation being a bailout. But the truth is the state would’ve taken over control of that system at the end of the day, it would be a bailout.”

Lauren FitzPatrick reported from Chicago, Tina Sfondeles from Springfield