How to make sense out of the catastrophic mess in Springfield.
Well, the Tribune’s Kim Geiger takes a stab at it. She tells us, shockingly, that it’s politics.
“This is a Democratic presidential year,” she reminds us. “Down- ballot Democrats tend to do well in these years, and Chicago has a very strong Democratic base anyway. So (Bruce Rauner’s) essentially kind of sacrificing his standing in Chicago in order to boost his appeal to the others in downstate areas in a way that he could then maybe get some…gain some seats down in those areas.
And a net gain of even a few seats switched from Democratic to Republican could give the Governor enormous influence in the Legislature.
So is that what’s going on? Nobody plans to do anything substantive until November, when we’ll have a new Legislature?
“Well, it depends on who you talk to,” Geiger explains. “If you talk to the Governor he would say that they are slow-walking it and that they are playing a game. I think what we saw on Tuesday was a legit, like, meltdown on the part of the Democratic majority, just an inability to agree on what was the way that they were going to come at this. And also I think it’s worth pointing out that the Governor had said after the House passed their budget bill, it was like a week before the end of session, the Governor came out and said, “I’m going to veto that.” So you had the Senate sitting there looking at this bill thinking you know if we pass this bill and it goes to the Governor it’s going to be vetoed anyway. So there wasn’t a whole lot of incentive at that point for the two sides to get together and do this when it was all really just going to be more show.”
Schools CEO Forrest Claypool has put together his own initiative to stymie the Governor and pressure him for equitable school funding across the state. He’s called upon, and garnered the cooperation of, superintendents across the state with high numbers of impoverished students to rally with him for increased funding.
Sun-Times education reporter Lauren Fitzpatrick says it’s easy to forget that Chicago’s not the only place with lots of low-income kids.
“These are the superintendents whose districts have so many low-income kids and whose property tax wealth is not able to do the job,” she tells us. “These are the districts that will not be able to open their doors unless some kind of state aid comes through. I mean there are plenty of districts in the State where they would feel a pinch if there’s nothing coming from Springfield, but basically they are supporting themselves off of their own local revenue. Claypool has found a bunch of these places where they’re stuck.”
Meanwhile, bills ping-pong across the building from Senate to House and back again. But Geiger says the Senate’s john Cullerton wants three key things. First, he wants to give the Mayor and the Board of Ed the power to raise the ceiling on taxes it can levy on Chicagoans.
“And the Senate has already voted to do this,” Geiger explains. “But this bill is stuck in the House and it’s another case of even if both chambers passed it would the Governor approve it, so they want the Governor’s backing of this idea. They also want pension parity for CPS. They want State help paying for the pension costs for Chicago Public Schools. Those two things are very specific to Chicago. They relate just to Chicago. Then the third thing is that they want a formula change to the way that the money gets doled out to schools.”
“If the point of state funding is to help kids in districts that aren’t necessarily able to keep up with their needs and that’s the philosophy behind it, then you know the formula right now kind of doles out an equal amount of money per poor child no matter where they are,” FitPatrick adds. “So if you’re in let’s say Highland Park and you have let’s say a couple dozen children who are considered living in poverty, you know maybe you don’t need quite as much help from the State catching those kids up and supporting them as opposed to – and I just know Chicago the best – where 86% of your kids are poor, you do need as much help as you can get kind of leveling the playing field.
So a sort of “game of chicken” has broken out between the CTU and CPS that’s gummed up any hope of reaching a contract agreement in the near future.
Fitzpatrick explains the machinations. “Claypool definitely wants Springfield to act first and then agrees with the Mayor that the City will come afterwards and then they will work out the deal with the CTU and everybody will do their part, but Springfield has to go first.”
“They’ve hammered out a bunch of details,” she continues, “But until CPS knows how much money it actually has it can’t really make decisions on how it’s going to pay teachers or what it’s going to demand from them, so really until some of this other stuff shakes out they’re just in a holding pattern for a little while longer.
“The CTU is saying, No. Springfield , we can’t count on them to do anything. We need to start helping ourselves first, so we need the City to start coming up with ways to generate revenue. And this is a point the Union is making too, even if Springfield comes through on everything we want them to, it’s still not going to be enough.”
So, will the Governor and the Legislature find a way in the next few weeks to open the State’s schools in September?
“Yes. Yes. They have to,” Fitzpatrick asserts. “And if it were just Chicago we were talking about I don’t know what my answer would be at this time, but there’s no way that all schools, most schools in Illinois are not going to be able to open in September.” Remember, there’s an election just 2 months later.
You can read a full transcript of this show in Word format HERE:CN transcript June 9 2016