Despite ushering in the largest property tax increase in modern Chicago history, Mayor Rahm Emanuel knows he still hasn’t solved the city’s financial mess, which was caused by years of bad policies and poor decisions by city leaders.
Instead of leveling with Chicago taxpayers, enacting reforms and passing structurally balanced budgets, Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool are setting their sights on the wallets of suburban and downstate residents by asking the state for $500 million in additional funding for CPS.
They also are attempting to rewrite history to justify their proposed bailout.
The record needs to be made clear.
For more than 100 years, our state has had two distinct teacher pension systems — one for the city of Chicago and one for the rest of Illinois.
Chicago helped create the system in which city residents pay the majority of costs for Chicago teachers, while pensions for downstate and suburban teachers receive state support.
As part of this set-up, CPS receives hundreds of millions of dollars in extra state support that is unavailable to other school districts.
This system worked for Chicago and CPS until they skipped paying into the pension system for an entire decade. The point is worth underscoring: As poorly as Illinois’ finances have been managed over the last couple of decades, Chicago’s finances have been handled even more irresponsibly.
Fifteen years ago, the CPS teachers’ pension system was over 95 percent funded. But due in large measure to those 10 years of skipped payments, today it is only 51.5 percent funded.
Now, Chicago wants a bailout from the state to fix things.
Instead of supporting Gov. Bruce Rauner’s efforts to pass sorely needed reforms for all schools in Illinois, reforms that would save CPS hundreds of millions annually, Emanuel and Claypool want downstate and suburban taxpayers to pick up CPS pension costs. City leaders disingenuously claim it is unfair that Chicago residents pay for their own teachers, as well as teachers everywhere else. What they don’t mention is that the cost of the other special deals that CPS receives every year has risen to $600 million annually.
•Chicago has 18 percent of the state’s special education student population, but it receives 30 percent of state special education block grant funding.
•Chicago has fewer than 19 percent of all students in the state, but it receives approximately 27 percent of the state’s personal property replacement tax paid by corporations.
•Chicago has 30 percent of all low-income students in the state, but it receives more than 50 percent of all free breakfast and lunch dollars, 42 percent of poverty-based education funding and 37 percent of early childhood funding for at-risk students.
•Chicago’s population accounts for 25 percent of communities that receive supplemental property tax funding, yet CPS receives 88 percent of Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) adjustment dollars.
All told, sweetheart deals yield CPS an additional $600 million in state education funding.
Many of us in the General Assembly have demonstrated our willingness to help CPS give the children of Chicago the education they deserve.
I remain committed to helping the mayor address the Chicago school system problems, but suburban and downstate legislators may well begin a revolt against special funding for Chicago schools when they understand the toll CPS is taking on their taxpayers and their school districts.
We need Chicago and CPS leaders to join us in supporting reforms that would reduce costs for all school districts and move our state forward.