Friday 15th December 2017

Lawmakers from both parties with cash poor schools don’t support SB1’s pension bailout

Lawmakers from both parties with cash poor schools don’t support SB1’s pension bailout

State Capitol
John Spataro | Illinois News Network

ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK

The vast majority of school districts across the state have more than three months cash on hand, the standard set out by the Illinois State Board of Education, but state representatives for districts with poor cash positions are frustrated by the continued delay in resolving school funding.

An evidence-based school funding formula required by the state budget imposed by lawmakers earlier this month still has not been resolved. There are less than two weeks left for general state aid checks to go out to schools across the state expecting to open their doors mid-August, but without the evidence-based model contained in Senate Bill 1 becoming law, schools get no new money. Gov. Bruce Rauner has vowed to amend SB1 when Senate Democrats eventually send it to him because it also gives Chicago Public Schools an additional $215 million annually in new state funding to bail out its failing pension system.

Of the 851 school districts across the state listed in an ISBE analysis, 708 have at least 90 days cash on hand. That leaves nearly 150 with less than 90 days of funding in reserve. Only 24 districts have less than a month of cash on hand.

Calhoun CUSD 40 in the central Illinois town of Hardin has 1.9 days cash on hand, the least of all districts in the ISBE analysis.

State Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville, said it’s a strong community “and I think they’ll come together and get it figured out. … Hopefully we can get past the games over here and get something actually accomplished,” he said.

But Davidsmeyer said the pain will be intense thanks to the Democrats’ procrastination politics in holding back school funding legislation from the governor until today.

“That gives [Democrats] time once [Gov. Bruce Rauner] vetoes it to sit on it for even longer,” Davidsmeyer said. “[They want to] wait until the last minute and claim that this is the only option to give kids funding, but the reality is they’re just holding them hostage.”

Davidsmeyer initially voted for the budget implementation bill (BIMP) that contains what many are calling a boobytrap: the requirement that an evidence-based school funding model such as the one contained in SB1 be in place before schools receive any state money this year. Passage of the BIMP with a handful of Republicans in support gave Democrats the leverage to add the Chicago pension bailout to the education funding reform bill, leading to the current standoff.

Edwardsville CUSD 7 in southwestern Illinois has only 12.8 days cash on hand, according to ISBE. State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, is a former teacher and said the politics is frustrating.

“It’s frustrating to think that people on both sides are willing to let things go down to the wire like this,” Stuart said. “Teachers have been planning for the last two months what they’re going to do the day they step into the room … on the first day of school and they kind of do that on good faith assuming that the people doing this understand that.”

Stuart said she doesn’t support her party’s school funding reform bill that includes the additional taxpayer money for CPS teachers’ pensions.

“The bailing out of Chicago was not something that I support,” Stuart said. “People in my district have overwhelmingly told me that they don’t support that.”

Senate President John Cullerton said he would finally send Rauner SB1, approved two months ago, on Monday. After Rauner amends it to take out the CPS bailout money, it returns to the Senate and then the House for override votes. Cullerton has a supermajority of Democrats in his chamber to override. House Speaker Michael Madigan does not. If all House Democrats vote to override, Madigan still needs at least four Republicans. If some Democrats, such as Stuart, split with Madigan, the speaker needs more Republicans. If the House fails to override, the measure dies and lawmakers must start over, further delaying the release of state money to schools.

“I want to get funds into classrooms and serving children and focused on educating the children that are in the room,” Stuart said.

In 1995, the state legislature started giving Chicago hundreds of millions of dollars a year in a block grant, something other state school districts don’t receive. That’s also around the time CPS started neglecting their pension funds, deteriorating the fund’s financial stability.

“My four years in office,” Davidsmeyer said, “every time I bring up the Chicago Block Grant they say, ‘well, we don’t get our pensions paid for,’ so the reality is they’ve been getting something in lieu of, in my opinion.”

Davidsmeyer said at the end of the day, Chicago wants extra state money that’s really not theirs.

Whether school districts will open is up to the boards for each of the more than 850 districts.

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