SB16: A matter of give to vs. take from suburban schools

Some suburban districts would benefit, some lose

State lawmakers are set to return to Springfield today and start the postelection debate over a controversial proposal to change how Illinois' school money gets handed out.

Top Democrats involved with the proposal say it's clear some changes would have to be made before passage of the bill, which would direct more state money to poorer districts at the expense of wealthier ones.

Today's Illinois House hearing, which is drawing suburban school officials to Springfield, might give some clues about what kinds of shifts could be coming.

Lawmakers, for example, could address specific questions of how poverty levels in a district are determined, said state Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat.

In recent weeks, suburban school districts have been lining up on either side on what's known as Senate Bill 16.

Some suburban districts would lose a lot of state money, which turned the proposed legislation into a campaign issue in the suburbs leading up to the Nov. 4 election. But other school districts would fare well under the plan.

Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid sent a letter to parents asking them to go online to register their opposition to reallocating the funds.

On the other side of the issue, the Elgin Area Unit District 46 board approved a resolution supporting the plan or a different one that achieves similar goals. U-46 representatives will be in Springfield today for a rally and the hearing.

No vote is scheduled in today's hearing, and if the House eventually approves a changed plan, it would have to go back to the Illinois Senate for another vote.

School officials across Illinois will be watching closely.

Republicans held several town-hall meetings in the suburbs in the fall and have urged Democrats to slow the process down and not rush a bill through the Illinois House.

The Senate architect of the plan says he doesn't know if lawmakers will push something to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn before Republican Bruce Rauner is sworn into office in January.

“This is going to take the House some time,” said state Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat. “That's the process the House is starting.”

The legislature hasn't scheduled meetings in January yet, so time could get tight and push the debate to the spring. Rauner has asked lawmakers to hold off on doing anything substantial until he takes office, but they don't have to.

The issue is a politically difficult. Many lawmakers across the state represent both districts that would win and others that would lose under the proposal, making it tough to vote either way. If the cash-strapped state doesn't spend more money on schools, it would be difficult to send more to some districts without taking money from others.

Crespo said that overall budget question is likely to come up today, but a solution isn't likely soon.

“I don't see anything moving this week, in veto session or in January,” he said.

The debate joins a host of others that could emerge in the next week. Quinn has asked lawmakers to raise Illinois' minimum wage, and they're set to address his veto of legislation regulating ride-sharing services like Uber.

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