Ed funding bill allowing mandate waivers may be gutted

Ed funding bill allowing mandate waivers may be gutted

SPRINGFIELD — An Illinois Senate committee has amended a far-reaching education funding bill with a provision allowing local school districts to opt out of dozens of instructional mandates, including driver's education.

The amendment was made Tuesday to SB 16, which may be headed for an even greater revision Wednesday afternoon in another Senate committee.

There, said sponsor Sen. Andy Manar, R-Bunker Hill, the legislation's existing language will be replaced with an entirely new bill.

Republicans believe the amendment will attempt to mitigate the Chicago Public School system's loss of approximately $28 million a year in state funding, as contained in the original bill.

The intention of Manar's legislation was to adjust the state school aid formula and to spend less money on special grants. Under that scenario downstate schools would receive significantly more state money while suburban school districts would get millions less.

Danville schools would gain $5 million a year and Urbana would get $4 million more, but Champaign schools would lose about $777,000 annually, under a preliminary analysis of the original bill.

Manar said the amendment allowing school districts to eliminate mandates was not designed to gain votes for the school funding bill.

"It was an issue that came before the (Education Funding Advisory Committee) at nearly every one of our hearings and it's been a criticism from the Republicans, particularly the downstate Republicans, and while I think it's a good step forward I don't think it's going to sway any of them to support the bill," Manar said. "If you can't get people to support a bill that's going to help their district outright, I don't know what you can change in a bill to support it."

But Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, criticized Manar's amendment.

"I think if we want to talk about identifying mandated changes we should bring everyone back to the table, take a look at the whole list and let's make it mean something other than a feel-good moment because we want to go back to school districts and say that we provided relief for you," Lightford said.

Manar said school districts could remove the mandates with the approval of the local regional offices of education.

Among the mandates that could be lifted, he said, were drivers education and physical education, as well as instruction about women's history, African-American history, steroid abuse, bullying and dozens more items.

Manar said he didn't know how much money lifting the mandates could save school districts.

"I don't have a savings number," he said. "I have no way of telling you how many districts, if this were adopted, would take advantage of it but nevertheless it's my intention to address this issue which has come before us multiple times."

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