If there is one piece of reform that Republicans and Democrats alike should be able to get behind in Springfield this year, it’s changing the way Illinois distributes money to its public schools.
Yet, for reasons unknown, Republicans continue to argue against a school funding reform plan that — while imperfect — has garnered support from school districts statewide, as well as from parents, education advocates, school funding experts and newspaper editorial boards.
Why are they so reluctant to fix a broken system, even if it means helping thousands of students and families they were elected to represent?
During a debate in the Illinois Senate last week, several of my Republican colleagues offered up an array of excuses and misinformation in an attempt to kill a comprehensive school funding reform measure for yet another year. Senate Republicans killed Gov. Jim Edgar’s efforts in 1997, and they’re still at it today, alongside Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
They don’t want any schools to lose money — even the ones that spend double or nearly triple the state average on education. They want to help some school districts but not others. They argue there’s no appropriation for the plan at the moment, so why bother. They say stakeholders haven’t had enough of a say and that wealthy Chicago suburbs are under siege. And they argue that the plan will never get a vote in the House.
Worst of all, they continue to cite faulty figures and outdated information in a concerted effort to confuse school superintendents, parents and taxpayers.
Fact: Under Senate Bill 231 no schools will lose money.
Fact: Senate Bill 231 is not a lifeline for one particular school district; it’s a lifeline for hundreds of school districts.
Fact: In all, 104 school districts would gain more money per pupil than Chicago Public Schools under Senate Bill 231, yet opponents continue to call it a “bailout” for Chicago.
Fact: Collectively, school districts represented by Republican state senators would benefit from an influx of $42.6 million under Senate Bill 231. That includes $5.2 million dollars more in Sen. Dave Luechtefeld’s southern Illinois district, $4.5 million more in Sen. Dale Righter’s east-central Illinois district, nearly $4 million more in Sen. Jim Oberweis’s Aurora-area district, and $1.9 million more in Sen. Jason Barickman’s central Illinois district.
Senate Bill 231 passed out of the Senate largely because of Democratic support and a recognition that someone in Springfield has to look out for our schools. It’s not a perfect solution, but it is based on thorough research, input from school districts and experts, and a desire to correct a longstanding problem that already has affected a generation of students.
Senate Bill 231 is the only school funding reform plan on the table. Rauner, who says he wants to be the “education governor,” has offered no plan other than to urge schools to continue making do under the existing broken formula. That’s neither leadership nor a solution.
I expect Senate Bill 231 to undergo further changes as it makes its way through the legislative process. That’s OK; we have to start somewhere. Going forward, it is vital that stakeholders arm themselves with the correct information about the proposal. It’s the only way we can have a debate that yields meaningful reform. It’s also the only way to hold elected leaders accountable.
The time is right for this overhaul. Schools are hurting, and people want change. I urge them to deliver that message directly to their lawmakers and Gov. Rauner.
Sen. Andy Manar is a Democrat from Bunker Hill in the 48th District and the chief sponsor and architect of Senate Bill 231, the school funding reform legislation.