Editorials

State lawmakers saunter into Springfield as school bell is ringing

School starts Thursday at Union School and other Belleville schools, but the state dollars to operate Illinois’ schools did not go out last week as scheduled. The delay was a first in Illinois history.
School starts Thursday at Union School and other Belleville schools, but the state dollars to operate Illinois’ schools did not go out last week as scheduled. The delay was a first in Illinois history. dholtmann@bnd.com

Need more evidence that the politicians in Springfield are playing their reindeer games with the educations of our children?

The first state aid payment to our local schools was due Thursday. It didn’t happen. But — surprise! — Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza found other money that was owed our schools since March.

“On the day Gov. Rauner’s void in leadership caused the state to miss General State Aid payments to K-12 schools for the first time in its history, Comptroller Susana Mendoza directed the payment of $429 million in Mandated Categorical grants to help provide needed cash flow to schools,” the Democrat’s office stated in a news release.

The check is in the mail. No, not that check. The really, really, really late check.

The Illinois Senate is in session at 2 p.m. Sunday to accept or override Gov. Rauner’s amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1. That is the new school funding formula that lawmakers refused to include in the new state budget and caused the state’s first missed payment to its schools.

Rauner’s “void in leadership” was because the Illinois House at the last minute inserted special funding provisions for Chicago Public Schools into the bill. Then the Senate sat on the bill for two months to create a crisis. Rauner was clear about his intent to take those Chicago-friendly provisions out. The Senate has the votes to override Rauner’s changes.

The Illinois House then votes on the school funding bill Wednesday, which is Governor’s Day at the Illinois State Fair. Illinois House Speaker “Mad” Mike Madigan scheduled the vote for then to put his thumb in the eye of Republicans, but he needs Republicans to cross over to the Dark Side because he doesn’t have enough votes to override.

Rauner’s amendments try to reform special funding deals that Chicago gets at the expense of the rest of the state. They are not just inflexible Republican mandates: Some of these ideas came out of Democratic former Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration. They target the facts that:

• Chicago has 30 percent of the poor students, but gets 43 percent of the poverty grants: $872 million there.

• Illinois pretends Chicago’s student population hasn’t dropped since 1997 and doles out money for special education, food and transportation based on that enrollment. Chicago gets $250 million more than it is entitled to receive were things strictly based on current enrollment.

• Illinois’ school funding formula ignores the property value tied up in tax increment financing districts or curbed by property tax limit laws. That changes the calculation by less than 2 percent in Belleville Elementary District 118. Chicago gets the bulk of the benefits from both of those calculations, worth an extra $750 million.

Remember, Chicago schools got into this mess when the city was given control of the schools in 1995. The teacher pension was fully funded then, but because they stopped contributing to it for a decade and spent the $1.5 billion on higher salaries and operations they now have a pension fund that is about half funded and has greater demands on it because they raised all those teacher salaries to some of the highest in the nation.

Sound like us and them? Well it is. Them been gaming the system at the expense of all the rest of us in Illinois. Fewer dollars unfairly channeled to Chicago means a fairer funding formula for the rest of our schoolchildren.

Illinois state senators on Sunday and representatives on Wednesday should uphold the amendatory veto on Senate Bill 1. Call your state lawmakers if you agree.

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