GOP opposition to school funding bill irks sponsor

SPRINGFIELD - Suburban House Republicans, fearing that majority Democrats could take money away from their school districts in a postelection vote, have thrown up prominent if symbolic opposition on Senate-approved legislation to overhaul state funding for public education.

The resolution offered this month by Downers Grove Rep. Ron Sandack and co-sponsored by two-fifths of the GOP caucus, along with two Democrats, decries what it says is Sen. Andy Manar's "piecemeal reallocation" of schoolhouse funding that will cause hundreds of districts "deep budget reductions and financial uncertainty."

Clearly miffed, Manar fired back on Monday, telling reporters at the state Capitol, "There is a cost to not getting this right in the state budget, and it's severe."

The Bunker Hill Democrat's plan won Senate approval in May. Manar said it followed a year of intense, statewide discussion and he derided Republican implications that it "just fell out of the sky and onto school districts."

It would revamp the complex school-aid funding formula - untouched since 1997 despite changes in population and wealth distribution - to ensure it funnels more money based on poverty, instead of other standards, to local schools overly reliant on crumbling property tax bases.

The Associated Press reported this month that House Democrats discussed the initiative privately last summer and plan public hearings this fall. That spurred Republican fears that Democrats would steamroll the plan through during January's lame-duck days of the sitting legislature.

"We're not insensitive toward the problems in other parts of the state," House GOP Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs told the Lee Enterprises Illinois Newspapers statehouse bureau last week. "But there needs to be a broader discussion. People should work on it in a collaborative manner."

Manar deflected questions about the political risk accompanying a vote that cuts money for a lawmaker's school district. He said the school-aid formula is supposed to adjust for local district wealth but demographic changes now skew it against poor districts.

"Until we get this right and we drive resources to (needy) districts," Manar said, " ... then we're never going to get at the root of major cost-drivers in the state budget, which is the correctional system, which is unemployment, which is the Medicaid system."

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