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updated: 2/2/2017 10:25 AM

Report: Federal funds meant for educating poor kids go to pay down state pension debt

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  • District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders says school districts having to divert federal Title I funds to pay down the state's pension debt is "unconscionable."

      District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders says school districts having to divert federal Title I funds to pay down the state's pension debt is "unconscionable."
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Springfield says he made an endorsement in the Aurora mayoral race because of a long friendship with state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, who is running.

    Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Springfield says he made an endorsement in the Aurora mayoral race because of a long friendship with state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, who is running.
    Associated Press File Photo

  • Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Chicago Archdiocese, visited Our Lady of the Wayside School in Arlington Heights in 2016.

      Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Chicago Archdiocese, visited Our Lady of the Wayside School in Arlington Heights in 2016.
    Bob Chwedyk, bchwedyk@dailyherald.com

 
 

Suburban school districts with high percentages of poor students are losing out on millions of federal dollars each year that are diverted to cover pensions, a new report by an education advocacy group has found.

Stand for Children found Elgin Area Unit District 46, which has a 63 percent poverty rate among students, lost $1.1 million in federal funds in 2014, the most recent year studied. Waukegan Unit District 60, where 97 percent of students are below poverty thresholds, lost $705,549 that year. Aurora West Unit District 129, which has a 60 percent poverty rate, lost $507,321.

Why does this happen? Outside of Chicago, the state covers almost the full pension tab for teachers paid with state or local funds. But school districts have to kick in more for teachers paid with federal Title I funds, which go to schools with high percentages of low-income students. That contribution is now 39 percent of a teacher's salary and has increased steadily to pay down the state's pension debt.

The breakdown

For a federally funded teacher paid $40,000 a year, that means school districts must send roughly $15,000 to the state to cover pension costs, Stand for Children's analysis shows. Meanwhile, a teacher paid out of local or state funds would cost a district a little over $200 for the school district's share of pension costs.

U46 CEO Tony Sanders calls the practice "unconscionable."

"We are taking resources directly from the neediest students in the state to shore up a pension system," he says. "It's another example of Illinois' inequitable and broke funding system."

Any change would have to come from lawmakers.

Deadline week

Illinois' school funding formula, put in place under Gov. Jim Edgar in the 1990s, is considered by many Democrats and Republicans to be out of date. But the state's divided government hasn't been able to agree how to fix it. This week, a bipartisan commission of 25 lawmakers and policy advisers released a draft report on a school funding solution it's providing to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. One major thrust: Low-income children and those who live in areas of concentrated poverty require additional resources to help reach their academic potential.

Durbin's backing

Why did Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin go to Aurora last week to personally endorse state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia for mayor?

"Durbin was the first official to encourage her to run for state representative some 15 years ago and they have worked together and been close every since," said Joe Calomino, field director for Chapa La Via's campaign.

Chapa La Via is running against Rick Guzman, Richard Irvin and Mike Saville.

Strike vote happening

The state's largest public employee union's strike authorization vote began this week and will continue through Feb. 19. Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees can vote at 700 work sites throughout the state. The union and the governor have failed to agree on a contract proposal, with the governor's office rejecting the union's latest proposal earlier this month.

You read here last week that Dennis Murashko, the governor's general counsel, said Rauner could fill jobs during a strike by mobilizing the Illinois National Guard, as Minnesota did in 2001. The governor's office estimates 28,000 to 30,000 workers around the state could go on strike.

Visits today

It's Catholic Schools Week for Archdiocese of Chicago schools in Cook and Lake counties, and Cardinal Blase Cupich and Superintendent Jim Rigg are making stops throughout the suburbs. On Thursday, Rigg will attend an all-school Mass at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein before traveling to Holy Cross Elementary School in Deerfield for a luncheon to thank the faculty and staff for their dedication to Catholic education.

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