After decades of false starts, Illinois lawmakers on Wednesday finally approved a massive overhaul in the way the state distributes money for public education.
The current formula leads to huge spending gaps because it primarily relies on property taxes, which means wealthier areas with high property taxes can spend more on schools than poorer areas. The goal with this new bill is to direct more state money to low-income school districts.
The proposal now needs Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature, but Rauner has reportedly said he won’t support the measure, which he and other Republicans have called a “bailout” for the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools.
Dusty Rhodes, an education reporter for WUIS public radio in Springfield, breaks down how the proposed funding formula works, whether it’s a bailout for CPS and why the bill faces an uncertain future.
1) Current funding formula vs. proposed funding formula
Dusty Rhodes: The old formula just set a basic rate and said if [a school district] can get to that rate with your property taxes, you’re good. So districts that have a nice mall and big homes can provide better schools than districts with a Dairy Queen and a grain elevator.
This new plan, it looks at who you have in your student body. Do you have low-income kids? Do you have kids who need to learn english as a second language? Do you have kids with special needs? And then this is how much it would cost to educate those kind of kids. Then you look at your property taxes to see how close you can get to that goal, and then the state fills in the rest from there.
So it ends up giving more money to the districts that need it the most. But the reforms only come in new dollars, and we’re in Illinois. We don’t have a lot of new dollars.
2) A CPS bailout?
Rhodes: In this particular bill, it’s more generous with Chicago than some of the other proposals, which would have actually taken money away from CPS. If you’re sitting in a committee hearing or on the floor at the debate, you would think it’s nothing but a gift. You just hear that over and over again from Republicans.
But Democrats did an analysis that showed that 268 other districts in the state gain more money per pupil than CPS under this legislation.
3) The bill’s future
Rhodes: [Rauner] has said he will not [sign the measure], but you can’t veto what is not on your desk. The Democrats immediately put a hold on the bill, which buys them extra time before they have to send it to him.
So during that time, Republicans have time to get educated about what this bill really does, and people can change their minds.