Three funding reform bills, a budget stalemate, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree...
I think it's finally safe to say: no one in Springfield is defending the current school funding system. Even the legislators who most vehemently hate some of the proposed fixes. That's a kind of progress: we finally have consensus that there's a problem, in the state with literally the most inequitable funding system in the country. Compounding the more general and persistent funding inequities, the ticking time bomb of Chicago Public Schools’s (CPS) disastrous finances has added pressure on the legislature to get something done. It's time.
Finding a solution isn't as easy. There are three funding reform bills right now, and given how complicated all of this is, I thought an overview was in order:
SB 1: This is the big education funding formula overhaul. The Senate passed a similar version of this in 2014, which didn't get called in the House. It moves in the same direction as states that have changed formulas recently (including Massachusetts and California). Over 200+ superintendents and organizations in the Funding IL’s Future Coalition have come together to support SB1.
- Net CPS gain: $140 million, phased in over four years.
SB 318: Well into the budget stalemate and dysfunction between the executive and legislative branches had set in, Senate President Cullerton proposed a well-intentioned compromise package in an attempt to move the logjam. Under SB318, the State would pick up CPS’s normal cost pension payment this year (~$200 million) and re-finance the remaining ~$400 million required to pay off past pension debt this year. It would also create a commission to recommend revisions to the state funding formula and sunset the formula in 2017 (including a sunset of the Chicago Block Grant, which is outdated, but does benefit CPS). It also freezes property taxes for two years, a move the Governor likes but most school districts outside of CPS are opposed to. The bill passed the Senate and is currently in the House, where it could receive a vote.
- Net CPS gain: $600 million (though $200 million is cash and $400 million is in deferring pension payments)
HB 4272: Sponsored by Rep. Christian Mitchell, this bill would provide an immediate pension cost shift and reinvest that money in the General State Aid formula. That is, school districts outside of CPS currently have the benefit of the state paying for their teachers’ pensions, which is regressive. The bill would stop that practice and instead put all that money into a progressive formula. The bill also dedicates any additional revenues to education and creates a continuing appropriation to guarantee education gets funded, regardless of any future budget impass.
- Net CPS gain: $200 million
Personally, I could go for any one of these bills. Even better, how about a hybrid? The legislature could come together and take the best pieces of all them. If I had a crystal ball, I think that's the likely outcome of all. Although, to be really honest, I fear that the most likely outcome is nothing changing, going back to the status quo, failing our kids, and continuing our ranking as the 50th in state funding equity…but let's not let that happen!
Let's raise our voices! Be loud! Call our legislators, email the Governor, tell Springfield: FIX THE FORMULA! Put egos and politics aside and get this done for our kids.