Senator Bush joins local superintendents in urging the governor to sign Senate Bill 1Chicago Tribune - July 17, 2017 | original article

By Emily K. Coleman

The broken way the state of Illinois divvies up money for schools needs to be fixed and now "is as good a time as any to fix" it, a Lake County senator said Monday.

That is state Sen. Melinda Bush's justification for why the budget – which was approved over Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto earlier this month – tied school funding to the passage of a bill that Rauner has vowed to veto, calling it a bailout of the Chicago Public Schools system.

Bush, surrounded by school district superintendents from across Lake County, called on Rauner to pass the new formula, which proponents say will steer more money to school districts with high numbers of low-income students, English language learners and students that require special education services without negatively impacting other districts.

"We know that we have a broken school funding formula," Bush said. "This is not a surprise to anybody in this room. This is something we have known for a long time in the state of Illinois. It's something that people have worked for years to try and fix the equity. This is as close as we have ever come."

The urgency created by tying the passage of a new formula to school funding may be the only way legislation will get passed, said former Grayslake Community High School District 127 Superintendent Catherine Finger, who now sits on the College of Lake County Board of Trustees.

Lake County superintendents have traveled to Springfield "countless times" to talk about education funding, she said. Each time, hearing after hearing, meeting after meeting, the legislation would be tied to the budget but then decoupled so that schools could start on time.

"I can't sleep at night thinking about not having a budget in place for our schools, and yet if we don't have the sense of urgency, I fear we're never going to hit the issue of equitable funding for kids in the state of Illinois," Finger said.

The new formula is research-based, designed by those in the education field and modeled off formulas used in other states, Bush said, emphasizing that the changes affect only new dollars and that no school district is negatively impacted.

That means that formula doesn't technically create perfect equity, Finger said after the news conference.

And while new formula doesn't completely close the equity gap, it moves in that direction, said Constance Collins, the superintendent of Round Lake Community Unit School District 116.

"It is somewhat (addressing the issue of equity among districts) because we're getting more than what we would have gotten without this," Collins said. "We are primarily dependent on state funds, more so than property taxes. We don't have the property tax revenue that exists in some other districts."

Preliminary estimates show that the nearly 7,000-student district would receive an extra $5 million each year, District 116 Chief Financial Officer Bill Johnston has said. That would be more than the $48.9 million it received over the 2015-16 budget year.

The proposed changes would also mean that Chicago Public Schools will no longer get treated differently under the formula, Bush said.

"This is not about bailing out any one school district," she said. "I could say to you that Round Lake is getting a bailout because they're getting more money than Barrington. It's a fair model. It's time to stop blaming Chicago."

Under the proposed funding changes, CPS would get at least $286 million more for pensions and general state aid, according to Chicago Tribune reports. A competing Republican plan would take away grant money from CPS and give it suburban and downstate districts, which could leave CPS with a $38 million funding cut if pension funding isn't provided.

Either way, without new legislation, the state won't be distributing nearly $6.7 million earmarked in the recently approved budget for school districts, state officials have said.

Finger said she doesn't know of any Lake County school districts that won't be opening in the fall if the state dollars don't come through, but it will definitely have an impact.

Millburn School District 24 will either need to borrow from other school districts to make ends meet or end the school year on April 1, Superintendent Jason Lind said.

The 1,200-student district is one of Lake County's more financially troubled districts, though years of cutbacks and cost controls have moved the district toward the black. Lind has described the district's financial situation as "perilous."

"We are going to have to make some different decisions and I would venture to say that's the same for everyone here behind me," Finger said, gesturing to the other superintendents present. "There will be cost containment. There will be programs that we will not run in the same fashion. It will touch all of us.”

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