(T)he clock is ticking for Illinois’ public schools, most of which are counting on their first slice of their shared $6.7 billion in general state aid payments due on August 10, to be able to open their doors.
Update: The school-voucher spotlight that came to life with the Trump administration taking over federal education policy turned to Illinois this week, with the news—via Chicago’s WBEZ—that there’s a “tuition-tax” (aka vouchers) bill that’s part of the discussions on a possible SB-1 funding compromise in Springfield.
In negotiations over the school funding bill, Republican lawmakers have listed a few key items they want in return for their support, including this tax credit program. Teachers unions and many Democrats traditionally oppose vouchers because they divert taxpayer dollars that could go to public education.
And on Monday, the Chicago Public Schools announced plans to layoff 950 teachers and support staff but delayed the approval of its final budget as it awaits the state’s school-funding decision.
Chicago Board of Education members are required to approve a budget by the end of August. The district said it would reschedule the group’s planned Aug. 23 meeting for “a later date this month” while the ongoing school funding impasse unfolds in Springfield.
Principals were nonetheless expected to make staff adjustments that annually follow finalized enrollment projections.
The district said 356 teachers and 600 support staff would be let go as a result of what it described as ‘enrollment changes, program adjustments and/or changes in students’ academic needs.’
It’s the first week of August, and Illinois’ schools still don’t know how much money they’ll get for the new school year…or when any money is coming. That’s because Gov. Bruce Rauner took his veto pen to selected chunks of Senate Bill 1—a school-funding law that won bipartisan approval in the Illinois legislature, even though its Republican opponents and the Republican governor continually tried to brand it as a “Chicago bailout.” The bill includes extra money for Chicago’s teacher-pension fund, but only because Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is the only district in the state that has to come up with its own local money for its teachers’ pensions. Everyone else’s pension costs are covered by the state coffers.
If a compromise can be reached or Rauner’s veto overridden, it would not only end the summer of uncertainty for Illinois school districts, it would end decades of stark inequities in a state that’s been rated the worst in the nation for underfunding schools in low-income communities.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown doesn’t see much hope for compromise:
Even though Rauner and Republicans have been characterizing the school funding bill as a Chicago pension bailout, the governor on Tuesday acknowledged the fairness of paying for Chicago teacher pensions by preserving that provision.
In removing the Chicago pension payment from the school aid formula and switching it into the state’s pension code, however, Rauner created additional practical hurdles for the legislation.
Would it make more sense on principle for Chicago teacher pensions to be paid through the state’s Pension Code as Rauner proposes instead of the school formula?
Sure, as a general principle. But from a practical political standpoint, this was a smart way of getting it done without allowing Rauner to hijack it to get his way on something else.
After going over the extensive changes contained in Rauner’s amendatory veto, I doubt any resolution of this issue will include him. This is another case where he has his own definite ideas of how something should be done, and when that happens, he’s not one to compromise.
Rather, Democrats must appeal directly to Republican legislators to find common ground, as they did to break the state budget impasse.
Support for the bill comes from its evidence-based model, the assurance that no school district would lose money under the bill, and a funding formula that balances the funding needs of a district’s students with its ability to meet those needs through local property taxes. Fix the Formula is a coalition of education and civic groups that has supported SB-1 and provided information on how it would work.
Here is the group’s run-through of the possible legislative outcomes on SB-1:
That’s the decision Illinois lawmakers are facing, as the clock ticks toward the end of summer break…and maybe toward the end of an inequitable system of funding schools.