SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP/KMOX) — The array of ideas for making Illinois public-school funding fairer grew more complex Friday with two more plans sent to the House by Senate Democrats with three days remaining in the spring session.
Senate Democratic President John Cullerton presented the latest with a proposal to free up Chicago Public Schools money for classroom use. Approved 31-19, it was derided by Republicans as a doomed election-year “bailout” for the nation’s third-largest school district, which faces severe financial strain as the bickering over the state budget continues.
Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) also got approval for another approach to revamping the complex formula that determines how state money is distributed to school districts. It’s an approach the Maywood Democrat described as a hybrid of two plans under consideration.
Cullerton’s plan does not change the formula for three years, but guarantees no district would receive less state money than this year. New revenue would be distributed through a $700 million “equity grant” based on local property wealth a nod to a state budget plan the Democratic-controlled House approved Wednesday pumping $700 million more into schools this year in the place of an immediate formula revamp.
The Cullerton proposal transfers the $200 million-a-year obligation for funding teachers’ pensions from Chicago to state taxpayers, who already fund pensions for all teachers outside Chicago. And it authorizes an increase in Chicago’s property tax levy to generate $175 million more a year to pay overdue pension costs.
It “continues our efforts in the Senate to create a more equitable school-funding system in which state dollars to go to help students,” Cullerton said.
State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) retorted that “Democrats are back to pushing a bill they know will never become law just to score political points with Chicago voters.”
The school funding formula has been targeted for an upgrade because critics say it is overly reliant on local property tax revenues that widen the gap between wealthy and poor schools. But a Senate-approved plan by Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) has stalled in the House, largely because of a perception that some districts would eventually end up with less state money than they currently receive. Manar says minuscule “lost” funding might occur among affluent districts with plenty of reserve funds to cover the difference.
That criticism spurred Lightford to create a measure, which passed 31-18, that borrows from Manar’s and one already under consideration in the House. The House plan rewrites the formula to reflect a so-called “evidence-based” framework that targets money to schools’ special needs, such as high poverty rates or numbers of children for whom English is not their primary language.
“We need to put funds in the right place, ensuring that all children are being prepared for a bright future,” Lightford said.
The Senate and House resume work Sunday afternoon.
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