CN August 17 2017

Nothing much to report this week in the ongoing struggle to find equitable financing for Illinois’ public schools.

The effort to override Governor Rauner’s amendatory veto has stalled for now in the House, where there aren’t enough votes. The bill would outline a comprehensive plan for reforming education funding to public schools, and without it, the schools just have to wait.

“Yes, we have a budget deal,” explains Tribune Education reporter Juan Perez, Jr. ” No, we can’t distribute education dollars until we have this latest mess sorted out. And now you are seeing how again, the partisan divides that are happening in Springfield are playing out and driving this – honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see this extend all the way through the Labor Day weekend. Personally that wouldn’t shock me at all.”

So if the override fails, does the process have  to start again, from scratch? House Speaker Mike Madigan says, no matter what, he’s not backing off the bill, known as SB1. “The Governor has also said that the parameters within the legislation are for the most part 90% to his liking,” Perez, Jr. explains. “So I don’t know that everything evaporates and you have to completely start from the drawing board. I think there’s a framework there that people can get to yes on. Again, … there are negotiations that are occurring and I would suspect that something like this can serve as a framework moving forward.”

What does this mean for Chicago’s public schools? Depending on what happens in Springfield, he tells us, “that assumes that $300-million in funding will arrive if the legislature manages to override and pass the current version of Senate Bill 1.” But there’s also talk of the City having to kick in an additional pot of money, too. Perez, Jr. says it’s looking like “an infusion of $269-million, the source of which hasn’t been discussed publicly by anybody who is actually in charge of making these decisions. Stop me if this is sounding like Ground Hog’s Day all over again.”

The major source of disagreement between House members is over the degree to which CPS, with its extraordinary proportion of students whose families live below the poverty line, should receive special funding to compensate the costs of teaching these more-expensive-to educate students. Perez, Jr. says the situation is complicated further by the vast disparity between CPS’ least-achieving and highest-achieving schools. At least three high schools, NorthSide, Whitney Young and Payton, were listed this week as among the very best high schools in the country.

“That’s amazing to see just kind of the broad range, only separated by a few miles here, sometimes not even that much,” he says. “It’s a question of how good the facilities are, how good the course offerings are, how good the academic outcomes are. It still astonishes me sometimes just to see just how broad those gaps can be in certain cases.”

If CPS’ fiscal troubles are ever solved, it won’t be soon. The loans that CPS has taken out just in the last year or two will cost more than a billion in interest over he next 30 years.

“I mean that’s an extraordinary amount of money,” he asserts. “And that ramp is climbing, but the debt service costs are also substantial and they are noticeable, and they are going to be growing as well. And what the school district is getting for these massive loans from their bankers are not the physical structures, the gleaming school buildings and facilities that you would normally expect to see. Instead, you are throwing a lot of interest and pushing off principal payments on a massive credit card bill just to basically get you a little bit of cash now so that you can kind of ease a little bit of the pressure that you have on the checking account this year and maybe next year.

But Perez, Jr. ends on an optimistic, if qualified, note.

“I think what the City is betting on is that to a certain extent the public understands the fact that yes, we do want to finance our public education system,” he declares. “We understand that this is a social good that needs to be financed, but everybody has got a breaking point. I don’t know how much patience there is amongst the City Council or others to take on yet another tax hike.”

You can read a full CN Transcript Aug 17 2017.

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About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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