A Third Attempt To Change How Illinois Pays For Public Schools | WBEZ
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A Third Attempt To Change How Illinois Pays For Public Schools

Illinois Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) plans to introduce a bill to change how the state funds public schools. It’s his third try in three years.

The bill would send more state money to districts serving students with higher needs, like those with high populations of special education students, English language learners, and low-income children.

Under the current system, some districts only have $6,000 to spend per student, while others, mostly in affluent areas, spend more than $20,000 per student.

“Our formula is almost punitive to children that live in poverty today, because everything else takes precedence,” Manar said, noting that many districts, including Chicago, are getting special deals.

Manar’s proposal drew almost immediate criticism from Senate Republicans who took to social media to call the measure a bailout for Chicago Public Schools.

The school funding formula has become a point of contention lately, with Senate Majority Leader John Cullerton (D-Chicago) declaring he won’t approve any K-12 education spending until the formula is changed.

Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) said that’s wrong.

“It’s very concerning for all of us around the state that all of our school children would be held hostage while this funding formula debate battles on,” said Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington).

Barickman, a member of the Senate Education Committee, said he agrees the state needs a new way of paying for public schools so that poor districts aren’t shortchanged.

But Barickman said districts need to plan for the fall and so he supports Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s latest push to first fund schools at the full amount they’re due by law. Current law requires the legislature to give schools $6,119 per student, but that amount was set seven years ago and was cut in the last several budget cycles.

Manar’s proposal does not accept that $6,119 is enough to educate children in Illinois today, especially those with more need. The formula he suggests would give each district a unique “adequacy amount.”

Additionally, the plan would increase what the state pays into the Chicago teachers’ pension fund to the tune of $200 million. Manar said it will mirror an unsuccessful bill that Cullerton sponsored last fall. In 1995, the General Assembly passed a law that said they would pay about 20 percent of the annual payment to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, but that didn’t happen. Chicago Public Schools also did not pay into its own teachers’ pension fund for nearly a decade and now faces ballooning payments that are eating into money that would otherwise be spent in classrooms.

Manar admitted that provision doesn’t win him any votes in his own downstate district, but said he can’t ignore the “glaring inequity” that Chicago must pay for teachers’ pensions out of their operating budget, whereas the rest of the districts in the state don’t.

The first two times Manar pushed a version of this bill, it passed the Senate, but not the House. He said Tuesday that this third version takes into account some of the “constructive criticism” he’s gotten.

For example, districts that would lose money under the proposed formula would be held harmless in the first year. That would cost approximately $400 million, Manar said. Other costs of Manar’s proposal were not immediately clear.

Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her @WBEZeducation.

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