Three Plans Emerge For Illinois Education Funding

May 17, 2016

Credit WUIS

  Illinois' leaders are divided over school funding, even as superintendents worry it will get caught in the political stalemate.

Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to increase how much Illinois sends schools overall, by $120 million.

Even then, some districts -- including the financially beleaguered Chicago Public Schools -- would see their state funding drop. Senate President John Cullerton nixed that as a viable option Monday.

"It would be very difficult to pass the governor's proposal that cuts 36 percent of the school districts in the state," he said. " It would be very difficult to pass that. And even the governor himself said that he wanted nobody to lose. So those two are inconsistent." Cullerton's pushing a plan to overhaul the education funding formula that Rauner doesn't like (the governor says he backs a new method of funding schools, but he doesn't want to see communities pitted against each other).

That proposal (Senate Bill 231) recently passed the Senate, and is the culmination of a multi-year effort by Democratic Senator Andy Manar of Bunker Hill. It would get CPS and other schools with lots of poor students more money, but in a Robin-Hood way of taking from richer districts.

In January, Cullerton gave a speech at the City Club of Chicago describing school funding reform the "defining crisis of our time," and linked it to the overall budget.

"Before we appropriate money for education for next year, (which) starts July 1, we have to fix this formula," he said at the time.  "The governor has linked things together. We don't have a budget because he's got his Turnaround Agenda. So I can link things together too."

Speaker Michael Madigan on Monday said the House is "interested in the Manar bill and the details of that bill."  He thanked Manar for his efforts, but refrained from endorsing it or promising that it would get a hearing in his chamber.

Madigan hinted that a third plan is coming, from a House task force that has spent the past several months studying the issue.

"Our goal in the House has been to identify inequities in the method of distribution of school money. That's been our goal. We think we've identified inequities that ought to remedied. And that would be the type of bill that we would propose," Madigan said. "There's a lot of inequity -- there's a lot of districts that really need more support from the state in order to educate children and they're not getting it."

He didn't give a timeline; he says details aren't ready as the task force hasn't finalized its thinking.

Cullerton appeared confident that the General Assembly will move on the education funding formula.

"We'll see," he said of SB231, as Madigan stood nearby. "It's a Senate bill, it can be amended. We always work out ... agreements."