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5 Things To Know About Illinois’ School Funding Fight

The political fight over Illinois school funding has drawn an unlikely mix of characters in the last week — from Chicago’s mayor, to the state’s governor, to Chicago’s top Catholic leader, to one of the nation’s biggest rap stars.

At the center of it all is a debate over how best to overhaul the formula Illinois uses to divvy up education funding to its 855 school districts. Democrats pushed a big overhaul through the state legislature — supporters called it historic — but Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed some key parts of the measure, known as Senate Bill 1.

The stakes are high. Absent a compromise, Illinois has no way to get money to schools as the new school year is about to kick off.  

Here’s what we learned this week about the school funding bill, the governor’s changes to it, and the politics behind it all.

Far-reaching effects

Rauner said his amendatory veto was about stopping a “bailout” for Chicago — and it did cut at least $200 million from what the district would receive in school funding under the Democratic plan.

But the various provisions of the veto would have much broader impacts.

Districts losing enrollment would see more dramatic cuts to their state aid under the veto. Those with tax increment financing districts (TIFs) or tax caps — which includes hundreds of school districts across the state — could be hurt. The veto also eliminates adjustments for inflation and regional salary differences. All districts will have to start making new retirement plan contributions for their teachers, but the governor’s plan doesn’t count that as a cost in the new formula.

“The whole intent of the formula — the whole intent of trying to accurately depict the quality cost of education for every district — all of that is erased with the amendatory veto,” said Michael Jacoby, director of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials, which worked on crafting Senate Bill 1. “We’re outdated already in year one.”

Deep love

Superintendents seem to love Senate Bill 1, and that was apparent at a hearing this week.

“I was jubilant about SB1, because it will definitely help us with the inequity we face in our little pocket of the state,” said Andy Henrikson, head of Mundelein Elementary School District 75, at a hearing on Wednesday called by Democratic lawmakers.  

For a study of inequity, he pointed to Lincolnshire, a northern suburb that has almost no poor students compared to 28 percent in nearby Mundelein.

Lincolnshire taxes residents at half the rate, but it is able to spend 150 percent more per student than Mundelein, Henrikson said.  At the same time, Henrikson said he supports getting more money into schools with greater challenges than his district.

“I don’t have the neediness that I think quite a bit of Chicago has,” he said. “So am I unhappy that SB1 gives more money to Chicago? No.”

Ellen Correll, superintendent of Community Consolidated School District 46 in Grayslake and president of the Lake County Superintendents, also testified in favor of Senate Bill 1.  

“I just want to be on record that if all 45 (Lake County superintendents) could be here today, they would. Because we do stand united in our support of SB1, and not the amendatory veto,” she said.

Deep hate

Some Republicans really hate Senate Bill 1.

Representative Jeanne Ives, from Wheaton, called the plan “the biggest central planning idea in the history of the state of Illinois.” She said evidence-based models of school funding — which assume schools will implement things like full-day kindergarten and hire extra teachers for bilingual students — have failed in other states.

“I reject it wholeheartedly,” Ives said. “We do need a new funding formula, and this is not the answer.”

No official numbers

We still don’t know for sure what the governor’s amendatory veto would mean in terms of cash for schools in the state. District-by-district estimates were completed by the Illinois State Board of Education, but they apparently contained a “significant error,” according to the state Board of Education. Neither the governor’s office nor ISBE is saying when — or if — the figures will be released.   

Choices

Lawmakers reconvening in Springfield this weekend have a few options for what to do — or not do — next.  

They could:

  1. Vote to approve the governor’s amendatory veto, though this is unlikely. Even Republican House floor leader Peter Breen, of Lombard, said this week the amendatory veto appears “dead on arrival.” 
  2. Vote to override the governor’s veto, which would take one extra vote in the Senate and 11 in the House. The bill’s main sponsor in the Senate, Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), has said if negotiations between Democrats and Republicans fail, then he would move to override the governor’s veto. “It’s not happening,” Breen said of the override vote.
  3. Do neither, in which case Senate Bill 1 dies. If this happens, it’s unclear how schools could receive the money lawmakers appropriated for them in the budget, since the state will still be without a required “evidence-based funding” bill.
  4. Come up with a new compromise bill. Democrats and Republicans are still negotiating.

Linda Lutton reports on education for WBEZ. Follow her at @WBEZeducation.

WBEZ State Political Reporter Tony Arnold contributed to this story. Follow him @tonyjarnold.

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