Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) signed a series of last-minute stopgap-budget bills, ensuring Illinois public schools receive necessary funding to open on time in the fall.
Illinois has not operated with a full budget in nearly a year and a half. In a June press conference, Rauner said Democratic leaders wouldn’t agree to a budget deal “unless the funding formula changes and we get a lot more money for [Chicago Public Schools.]”
The Illinois Senate passed legislation in May to provide CPS with $205 million in pension relief and an additional $175 million in funding compared to what was received in 2015, but the House did not act on the bill.
In June, Senate Democrats proposed increasing education funding by $750 million, sending $287 million of it to CPS. Senate Republicans expressed concern downstate school districts would suffer as a result of the “bail out” given to CPS, which faces a $1 billion budget deficit that was caused in large part by a lack of funding for teachers’ pensions.
CPS agreed to pay $676 million to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund in June, leaving CPS with just $24 million in the bank.
Lawmakers had until July 1 to reach a deal to ensure schools opened on time. Rauner signed the temporary stopgap budget on June 30. The new laws give the state’s public schools $11 billion, which should keep them open for a year, and it will also provide $700 million to fund other social services for six months.
CPS will receive about $100 million in extra state aid, compared to 2015, and the state will give $205 million to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund. The legislation also allows the Chicago Board of Education to raise property taxes by $250 million to help pay for teachers’ pensions.
‘A Bridge to the Future’
State Sen. Karen McConnaughey (R-St. Charles) says the budget is a temporary fix.
“It is by no means a perfect solution,” McConnaughey said. “It’s a bridge to the future. There’s a bit of a sigh of relief, but there’s no reason to be celebrating, because we still have a lot of work to do.”
Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy at the Illinois Policy Institute, says Illinois has many problems the stopgap budget doesn’t address.
“The stopgap budget, we have to realize, was a political decision, and it does nothing to fix Illinois’ problems,” Dabrowski said. “It doesn’t change how we spend money. It doesn’t reform anything. And so the same problems that existed before continue to exist from a structural standpoint.”
Holding CPS Accountable
State Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) says throwing more money at the problem is not a solution.
“The CPS plan transfers money from districts like mine to Chicago,” Sandack said. “Much of the state will subsidize Chicago, which has become a bottomless pit without a lot of accountability. I’m amenable to working on changes to the state’s funding system, but CPS needs to implement some accountability, become more transparent, and hold a referendum, and it needs a path to show better outcomes for its students. Throwing more money at a broken system doesn’t make sense to me.”
Need for Reform
Dabrowski says he’s hopeful continued spending debates will eventually lead to structural education reform.
“None of these budgets have done anything to change how education is delivered in Illinois, and they’ve done nothing to improve educational outcomes,” Dabrowski said. “Most of the battles over education are strictly about how much money we put in and not about how well it’s working for the kids.”
McConnaughey says freeing districts to innovate is necessary to reform education.
“I believe in local control, empowering local school districts with as many tools as possible to provide the highest quality education to kids,” McConnaughey said. “In some districts, privatization makes a lot of sense. I think it’s important that the General Assembly stays away from creating impediments to that and instead creates as many opportunities as possible to create alternatives where they make sense.”
Josh B. McGee, “Chicago Crowd-Out: How Rising Pension Costs Harm Current Teachers—and Students,” Issue Brief, Manhattan Institute, May 25, 2015: https://heartland.org/sites/default/files/mi_-_ib-jm-0516.pdf