GOP disputes Madigan on downstate vs. Chicago school funding inequity
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Republicans moved Wednesday to dispute House Speaker Michael Madigan's contention that downstate and suburban school districts get a "free lunch" in state-subsidized pension payments for teachers.
Several times the speaker, a Chicago Democrat, has claimed that the state is providing the equivalent of a "free lunch" in the pension payments it makes on behalf of suburban and downstate school districts. The Chicago Public Schools covers most of the costs of its pension payments (all but $11 million) while the state government provides $115 million for the pension costs of teachers in downstate and suburban districts.
But the tiny Senate Republican caucus — 19 of the Senate's 59 members — joined together Wednesday to charge that the gradual evolution of Illinois school funding formulas has shifted more public education funding to Chicago schools.
Aided by shifting school funding formulas, particularly in poverty grant and property tax cap adjustment grants, Chicago Public Schools get $772 million in additional state funding.
When the subsidies were divided by total student attendance, said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, "Chicago's free lunch is $2,223 per student versus $67 per student for downstate and suburban districts."
"We're here today to acknowledge that, yes, there is a free lunch," said Radogno. "But after digging into the system of funding, we believe that it is actually Chicago that is receiving the free lunch."
She said that "we're not here to bash Chicago. We're not against Chicago or its schoolchildren. We're not here to ignite any regional warfare over school funding."
But she said that claims that downstate and suburban schools benefit from the current pension funding system "is actually jeopardizing our chances to solve the financial crisis."
Some of the education formula adjustments were enacted by past governors, others were created by legislation.
The state property tax cap adjustment was created by lawmakers to try to offset some of the revenue loss by local districts when tax caps were enacted.
"Eighteen percent of the kids are in Chicago Public Schools, but Chicago Public Schools get 49 percent of the (tax cap) dollars, a free lunch total of $196 million that taxpayers outside of Chicago pay for money that goes to Chicago," said Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine.
With poverty grants, the formula was changed by the Blagojevich administration, Murphy said, and now favors Chicago schools. Chicago has 31 percent of the children in poverty, the Republicans said, while getting 47 percent of the poverty funding.
For each child in poverty, the Chicago school district gets $2,513 while the Champaign school district gets about $1,100. The Mount Zion district in Macon County gets only $390 per student.
Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said the research on school funding will be "a game-changer" in discussions about school funding and pension reforms.
It also, he said, may split Democrats in the House and Senate.
"We have a whole lot of suburban and downstate Democrats. How do they respond to this now?" said Rose.
Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said the Republicans' research should help focus the pension debate beyond teacher costs.
"There have been attempts to move the conversation to the cost shift and we'd like to focus on pension reform," Barickman said. "If people want to engage us in dialogue over education funding formulas we'd be glad to do that but that is separate and distinct from pension reform. That is what we want the focus to be on."