Future murky for rewrite of school funding law

Future murky for rewrite of school funding law

SPRINGFIELD — A major rewrite of Illinois' school funding formula squeaked out of the Illinois Senate Tuesday, but faces an uncertain future in the House.

Senate Bill 231, sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, would revamp the way the state distributes school aid, putting more money into school districts with high poverty rates, mostly at the expense of wealthy suburban school districts.

It passed 31-21 in a Senate where Democrats hold a 39-20 advantage, but where a "yes" vote by some Democrats who represent suburban areas would have been politically dangerous.

Three suburban Democrats voted against the bill and two others voted present. Three others, whose districts include some suburban territory, did not vote.

Voting for the measure in the House, where Democrats have a smaller majority and many Democrats represent suburban areas, will be even more problematic.

Among East Central Illinois senators, only Democrat Scott Bennett of Champaign voted for the bill. Republicans Jason Barickman and Bill Brady, both of Bloomington, voted no, as did Dale Righter of Mattoon and Chapin Rose of Mahomet.

In Bennett's 52nd District, which includes most of Champaign and Vermilion counties, the new formula gives significantly more money to the Danville, Rantoul City Schools, Rantoul Township High School, Bismarck-Henning and Hopeston school districts, while holding harmless other districts in the first year of the formula change.

Danville District 118 would gain $2.8 million under the legislation. Rantoul City Schools would get an additional $1.06 million and Rantoul Township High School would receive $327,462 more.

Much of the opposition from Senate Republicans Tuesday centered on how much more money — $175 million — would go to Chicago Public Schools.

Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, called the formula revision "a huge redistribution of wealth from primarily suburbanites and many downstaters to Chicago. And it's done by design."

He said the financially troubled Chicago school system would get 24 percent more money next year than it is getting this year.

"You can say that's not a bailout of Chicago, but if it walks like a duck, it's a bailout," Murphy said.

Righter said Chicago schools are "a dramatic failure" and didn't deserve additional funding.

He said the dropout rate in Chicago schools is 150 percent greater than the state average and that most students in the 11th grade read below the standard measure.

Republicans also complained that the legislation, including the hold-harmless provision aimed at guaranteeing that no school district loses money in the first year, would cost the state about $400 million more than the additional $55 million Gov. Bruce Rauner proposes spending on K-12 education next year.

But Manar, who admitted the legislation was imperfect, said the cost of not acting to fix the nearly 20-year-old school aid formula was greater.

"The fact that we spend $2,400 per year for 13 years less on students living in poverty versus those that don't has a cost associated with it," he said. "We see it in our budget. We see it in the Department of Corrections. We see it in the Medicaid program. We see it all over our state budget because we have failed to get school funding right."

Manar asserted that his bill "will attack poverty in the classroom."

"There are too many kids going to kindergarten on the first day (who) may think they have all the opportunity in front of them in the world but in far too many classrooms in small towns and urban neighborhoods in the city of Chicago and the suburbs, we shouldn't pretend that they do, because they don't," he said. "Their path in life, the outcome that they will have in grade 12, is already predetermined before they set foot in a classroom and that's because poverty has a stronghold on our state."

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