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Republicans highlight inequity in newest Democrat school plan

Lawmakers in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly are reviewing an inequitable Democrat school funding plan based on flawed and misleading data that disguises what is actually a massive bailout for Chicago’s school system at the expense of every one of the state’s other public schools.

“I have a simple standard for how to judge a school funding plan, it has to be real and it has to be fair,” said State Senator Jason Barickman. “This bill is based on hundreds of millions of imaginary dollars that aren’t even in the Democrat budget, and it would channel the majority of those to Chicago. That isn’t real or fair.”

"As often happens with important legislation, special deals are added at the end and fairness is tossed out the window in exchange for what is politically expedient," said state Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Raymond). "When talking about state policies, I hear often from constituents that the money flows straight to Chicago while the rest of Illinois is forgotten about. That is happening again. The children of Illinois are too important to allow our new school funding formula to be used as a way to steer disproportionately more of our taxpayer dollars money to Chicago. I agree - the children of Chicago deserve a high quality education. Many of them are not afforded that opportunity under the current system. However, the children outside of Chicago, in central and southern Illinois deserve the opportunity to get a great education too."

Results distributed by Democrats for House Amendment 1 to Senate Bill 1 show Chicago Public Schools (CPS) receiving a funding increase of just under $200 per student. In reality, the bill was crafted in such a way that massive increases were built into the base funding minimum for the district. Analysis shows that the actual gain for CPS would be $1,333 per student, far higher than any other district in the model.

“We all care about the troubles plaguing Chicago schools, but we can’t keep putting some students ahead of other poorer students just because of their zip code,” said Senator Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods). “Providing special deals for Chicago at the expense of poorer students elsewhere across the state does not foster equity, particularly when it hurts the adequacy of funding for school districts all across the state.”

The initial results distributed by Democrats are also based on previous school years and do not actually represent what schools would receive if the bill were passed into law. Funding the plan for the 2018 fiscal year would require an additional $705 million, which isn’t appropriated in any budget that has passed either chamber. Of the necessary $705 million, $494 million or 70% of that would be given to CPS, with the state’s 851 other districts sharing the remaining 30%.

The legislation accomplishes the big boost for CPS by twisting the Evidence Based Model to make Chicago look much poorer than it really is, while giving the district credit for making its own pension payment several times over.

"We've spent countless hours in meetings hearing from experts, gathering information and negotiating on school funding reform to get to an agreed bill," said state Rep. Sheri Jesiel (R-Winthrop Harbor). "We saw significant efforts in recent weeks, and believed that we were very close. However, in a move that is all-too familiar in Springfield, at the last minute the bill was loaded up with millions of dollars for Chicago Public Schools at the expense of every other student in the state. I'm disappointed and hope that we can continue to work together in good faith on a solution that is good for child in Illinois."

Republicans highlighted the issues with the legislation at a Capitol press conference while also pointing some of the underlying issues with CPS funding, including a broken tax system and a lack of local support. They noted that Chicago has an effective tax rate of just 1.71% for homeowners. The city contributes just 51% of its funding from local sources, compared to the state average of 67%. The Evidence Based Model’s local contribution calculation says Chicago should be taxing at 4.2%, despite the District’s Operating Tax Rate of only 3.4%, suggesting the city has the property wealth available to increase local revenue by nearly 25%.

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