The Critical Need To Get Education Funding Reform Right

Recently, I was contacted by some constituents concerned about K-12 education funding. It was apparent that they care very much for their school district and their children, like every parent. These parents were understandably convinced that Senate Bill 1 is the fix Illinois’ education funding system needs because of certain information being distributed and the situation at hand in Springfield. After responding to these constituents, I felt it was necessary to ensure every resident of the 61st District had a better understanding of the controversy surrounding this critical issue and why it so important that we get this right.

Let me be clear, the schools and students in the 61st district are very important to me and I feel a great deal of responsibility for them as Senate Bill 1 has been debated and considered.

As many residents already know from visiting my website, I have spent the last year on a special commission that reviewed school funding, specifically the evidence-based model. I have also spent a good deal of time negotiating the specifics Senate Bill 1, so I am very familiar with the model and many of the arguments for and against it. I support the model itself - I think it is a very responsible way to get funding in a principled and research-based way to students who need it the most. I want to be very clear that the opinions that I hold with regards to SB1 are based on the content of the bill and on my participation over the last year, and not influenced by the Governor, partisan politics or personal preference. My responsibility is to negotiate and support a bill that will help and not hurt the students in the 61st District.

I have been in the legislature long enough to know that no one gets what they believe is a perfect bill. As negotiations were taking place in May, we believed that the intentions of the bill's sponsors were good, and that there were areas in which both sides could give a little. The problem was that at the very last minute - the day before the end of session - a new amendment was filed that included numerous provisions for Chicago Public Schools which, if enacted, would take funds away from every other district in the state. Some of these provisions were never discussed - they were a huge surprise. Others were a reflection of what one side asked for, with very little of what the other side considered important, which was not a fair negotiation. The bottom line was that everything that would heavily favor CPS was included, and what was important to other legislators was left out, one of which for me was reducing overreliance on local property tax revenues.

The school funding formula is very complicated - rather than make this a much longer piece filled with the details, I hope readers will trust me when I write that the way SB1 is currently written, at best will definitely provide less funding - in many cases, significantly less funding - to deserving schools outside of Chicago. I am very uncomfortable with sending the funding that the children in my district deserve to Chicago Public Schools. No question that Chicago should be getting what they deserve as well, which is why we have a new funding model, but they should not get hundreds of millions more than they would under the formula as originally conceived, especially when it means those funds will not make it to classrooms in my district, or any other district across Illinois.

The other more significant problem is with minimum funding level requirements in the bill which, along with the other CPS goodies, could result in some districts getting no new state money, and many others being pro-rated, in the future. The way the bill is currently written, CPS will ALWAYS get the lion's share of new funding, at the expense of everyone else, especially if new funding levels drop in the future. It is very difficult for me to put schools in my district in jeopardy in the years to come by voting for the current version of this bill.

I think it only reasonable that we come to a compromise and remove the worst provisions of the bill, and that is what we are currently working on. In the meantime, with regards to the Amendatory Veto, I would say that I agree with the Governor's decision to strike some parts of the bill, I have concerns about others that were included or struck that I feel should not have been, but at the end of the day, negotiations continue to find a middle ground somewhere in between.

I want to assure residents that I, and the vast majority of my legislative colleagues, feel the same sense of urgency that parents and school officials do. The dysfunctional nature of the state of Illinois has not helped the situation and it is incredibly unfair to students and families who simply want their children to receive a quality education to be put in the middle of another game of political "chicken". I want no part of this game, but I also want no part of a bad bill that is enacted in desperation without ensuring that we get it right.

I hope this helps residents better understand a little about how this process has unfolded. Again, the most important thing to me is to get this as close to right as possible, knowing the final product will not include everything I feel should be part of bill. Both sides need to compromise in order to get this done.

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