Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) offered his take on an education funding reform proposal recently approved by the Senate. Below is his op-ed, which was was recently published in the May 15 edition of the Bloomington Pantagraph.
There has been a lot of misinformation lately regarding a piece of legislation, Senate Bill 231, that has been touted by supporters as school funding reform. In reality, the proposal, sponsored by State Sen. Andy Manar, represents a $750 million per year bailout of Chicago’s bankrupt public school system at the expense of downstate and suburban schools.
While Sen. Manar and some recent editorials have proclaimed it would help struggling downstate schools, that’s simply not the truth. The two largest school districts in this area, McLean County Unit 5 and Bloomington District 87, would lose $8.1 million and $1.9 million, respectively, per year. Nearby Clinton, facing the all-too-real possibility of losing its largest employer, the Clinton Nuclear Power Station, would face a cut of $1.6 million.
Sen. Manar has stated his proposal includes a “hold harmless” provision to keep schools at their fiscal year 2015 funding levels. However, that provision drops 25 percent every year, meaning in four years, we would be right back to the underlying formula and its massive cuts. Plus, the provision is based on hundreds of millions in additional funding, and the sponsor has identified no source to actually pay for it.
Everyone agrees the current formula is broken. However, SB 231 wouldn’t fix the problems and the legislation would do nothing to stop wealthy districts from spending $30,000 or even more per student, while poorer districts spend less.
Keep in mind SB 231 is just one of a multitude of proposals filed by Sen. Manar, all with wildly different impacts on schools. These proposals are political calculations, based as much on getting votes as actually helping schools. That path has apparently worked in the short term, as the measure just barely passed in the Senate. But it now heads to the Illinois House, where downstate Democrats have thankfully made it clear the bill stands little chance of passage.
In the meantime, the governor has proposed fully funding the existing formula immediately for the coming year, bringing to an end the shameful act of proration, or cuts, under which Democrats had given schools less funding than they were supposed to receive. The idea is not a long-term solution, but it would guarantee schools open on time this fall and provide time to work on a real solution that's good for the entire state.
Proponents of SB 231 have claimed Republicans have offered no solution of their own, which is completely false. I filed legislation supported by hundreds of schools through the Vision 20/20 coalition to rewrite the formula based on evidence. Unfortunately, Democrat leaders refused to even let the bill be heard in committee. Regardless, I continue my advocacy of such an evidence-based solution.
Now that SB 231 is likely dead in the House, my hope is we can finally have a real conversation about how to fund our schools for the coming years. We can fix the formula, but it will require bringing everyone to the table, including the education community, parents, and lawmakers from both parties in both chambers.
Make no mistake, Republicans continue to work toward making that happen. We need more leadership and bipartisan cooperation. But we can’t settle for a thinly veiled bailout for Chicago. Our children’s futures are too important.