State: Lawmaker seeks revamp of school funding formula

Illinois would rip up its nearly 20-year-old school funding formula and replace it with one that would send more money to districts with high levels of poor students, including the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools (CPS), under a proposal unveiled by a state lawmaker on Tuesday.

Democratic State Senator Andy Manar said he will file legislation on Wednesday to establish a more equitable school funding system that will drive resources to high-need, high-poverty districts.

“Our (existing) formula is almost punitive to children who live in poverty today,” Manar told reporters at the state capitol in Springfield.

He said his plan would replace the formula adopted in 1997, while ensuring the state funds all districts at fiscal 2016 levels for four years.

CPS, the nation’s third-largest public school system, has been fighting for higher state funding, particularly for its teachers pension fund. The state covers pension payments for all districts in a state-wide teachers retirement system that excludes CPS. Manar said his bill includes pension parity for CPS, while eliminating the district’s block grant.

Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, has said the new formula could result in an additional $300 million for CPS, according to his spokesman.

It was not immediately clear how the measure would fare in the Democratic-controlled legislature. House Speaker Michael Madigan launched hearings by an education funding task force earlier this year. Any hint of a state bailout for CPS, which has had to borrow to fund operations, will spark opposition from Republicans.

Per-student funding in Illinois can range from $6,000 to $30,000, largely depending on a district’s local property tax base.

Manar called for quick action on his bill.

“Two years from now the system will be less equitable than it is now,” he said.

He also said that much of his proposal matches ideas that Governor Bruce Rauner has floated in public.

The Republican governor told reporters at an unrelated event earlier on Tuesday that he supports changing the funding formula.

“We’ve got to come up with a way to increase significantly state support for education and focus that money on the lower income districts and the more rural districts that don’t have the resources they deserve to put into the schools,” he said.

In his fiscal 2016 budget, Rauner proposed boosting per-student state funding for K-12 public schools to $6,119, the highest level in seven years.

–Reuters

Coming this week: local legislators weigh in on Manar’s school-shaking idea.
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