An updated method of funding public schools in Illinois won wide Senate support Wednesday, but Gov. Bruce Rauner's office came out in opposition to the plan, with the Republican's education adviser maintaining that it would provide a "bailout" for Chicago schools to the detriment of other districts.
The revamp of the 20-year-old school funding formula is part of what began in the Senate as a "grand bargain" compromise to break a budget deadlock. It would establish an "evidence-based" model and funnel money into four "tiers" of schools based on their academic and economic needs. Illinois has the nation's largest gap in spending between affluent school districts and those serving poorer communities.
"We should no longer treat school districts in a distribution model without accounting for their true needs," said Sen. Andy Manar, the Bunker Hill Democrat sponsoring the legislation. "This bill measures ... where school districts are today and the districts that have the furthest distance to go, they get the money first, moving forward."
It was approved 35-18 — one vote short of the 36 needed to override a gubernatorial veto — and moved to the House with two weeks left in the Legislature's spring session. Every school district would get the same amount of money it got in 2017 and any extra money would be funneled into the new formula the following year.
But Rauner education chief Beth Purvis told The Associated Press that it's inequitable because the financially troubled Chicago Public Schools would continue receiving a block grant while getting new subsidies to pay part of teacher pension costs. The grant given to Chicago is a flat percentage of what's paid statewide to other districts for programs such as transportation and special education.
Purvis said that would mean $250 million a year for Chicago. It would get millions of dollars more because the plan, for the first time, would require state payments to help pay its portion of year-to-year Chicago teacher pension costs, just like the state pays for all other school districts.
"That is $250 million that is not being spread out among the other very low-income districts," Purvis said.
Senate Democrats said their legislation eliminates the grant for programs whose funding is folded into the new formula. Grants for other programs would continue for Chicago as they would for other districts. They said pension payments are not considered in determining what level of funding is adequate for Chicago schools.
Assistant Democratic Leader Kimberly Lightford of Maywood chastised Republicans for wanting to protect money for their own districts and being stingy about impoverished Chicago pupils.
"Stop it. They're poor. It's poverty. They need help," Lightford said. "Whatever your school district's needs are, they will be met with this. But if your needs aren't as great as your neighbor's needs, then you don't get as much as your neighbor."