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Long-awaited budget vote won’t yet solve school funding problems

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Illinois got its long awaited budget Thursday afternoon after the House, briefly delayed by a possible hazardous materials situation at the state Capitol, voted to override vetoes by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

But the state’s 800-plus school districts, including the broke Chicago Public Schools, will have to wait a little longer to see their financial problems resolved.

Wait, what? Weren’t the budget bills supposed to fix everyone’s money problems?
Not quite. School spending is separate, though connected. The measures House members approved on Thursday do authorize more spending for schools — about $350 million more throughout the state with one of the most inequitable school funding system in the nation — but don’t include the new funding formula for doling out that money. That formula, known as an “evidence-based funding model” is spelled out in separate legislation, including one bill, Senate Bill 1, that has passed both houses of the Legislature but has been targeted for veto by Rauner once it lands on his desk. The other bill, introduced by Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington), hasn’t been voted on at all.

Will CPS get more money then?
A little, but not the big money it needs to balance its books. The budget bills do contain additional statewide spending for school matters: $50 million extra on early childhood education, $57 million more for transportation, and $3.2 million more for agricultural education. CPS wouldn’t say what its cut would amount to.

The budget bills also would raise new tax revenue — which the Illinois Comptroller’s office said would allow it to cut checks for a remaining $850 million in late block grant payments to CPS and other districts across the state — but there’s no immediate cash infusion, spokesman Abdon Pallasch said. Meanwhile on Thursday, the credit ratings agency Moody’s also threatened to further downgrade CPS’ already shoddy rating, citing the state’s “uncertain” timeframe in sending that money to its largest school district.

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What happens next?
The Senate has yet to send SB1 to Rauner to sign — he’s vowed to veto it, saying it was 90 percent of what he was looking for and amounts to a “CPS bailout.” The Senate and House also could consider Barickman’s bill. “We would hope that as soon as SB 1 gets to the governor’s desk that he signs it right away so it can go into effect,” said Ginger Ostro, head of the advocacy group Advance Illinois, which for years has been pushing for equitable funding for poor students. “We’re weeks away from school starting, and we know school districts across the state are really in crisis planning and need a certainty of knowing their funding’s coming for the next school year.”

Will schools open on time in the fall?
CPS has borrowed dearly to ensure that happens after it also had to put hundreds of millions toward teacher pensions. But superintendents in other districts, who’ve been lobbying steadily for more state funding, have warned they cannot make payroll past the summer without the money allocated by the new funding formula.