Lawmakers ready for second round on school finances debate

A plan that attempted to change the way Illinois distributes education money will appear again, with some changes, in the new General Assembly convening next week.

State Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat, tried to change state law last year to send more money to poorer school districts, a move that would have taken money from some wealthier suburban districts.

The idea was controversial in the suburbs in 2014, popping up at school board meetings and stirring school officials to action. Manar said he'll try again this year. He says there will be changes but won't yet reveal exactly what he has in mind.

Suburban Republicans rallied in the fall to prevent lame-duck lawmakers from pushing a proposal through, and suburban Democratic lawmakers in tough races were skeptical, as well.

In the end, supporters declined to move forward in the Illinois House in the fall, and it was unclear they'd have been able to succeed even if they tried.

"The modifications will reflect the continued discussions we've had with legislators and educators across the state," Manar said.

That means suburban school officials will be watching again.

Schaumburg Township Elementary School District 54 held meetings and a forum last year with two other school districts to educate the public on the plan, which it opposed, spokeswoman Terri McHugh said.

"It will negatively affect District 54," McHugh said. "If it became law, the district would lose about $1,000 per student annually."

Those numbers are likely to change as the plan changes, but Elgin Area School District U-46 backed the early version.

District CEO Tony Sanders says if lawmakers can't figure out a tight state budget, "the prospect for education getting the money they need for this year and next year are not good," whether Manar's plans are approved, Sanders said.

Manar expects to get moving soon on the new plan. Filing early leaves time for discussion and critique of the bill, Manar said, allowing for continued conversations and changes at the state level.

State Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, represents both U-46 and District 54. He argues regardless of what decisions are made, schools should be shielded from losses initially.

"I'm going in with an open mind because whatever decisions we make will have a huge impact on my district," Crespo said.

Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner takes over his new job Monday, and he said during the campaign he generally opposed the most recent plan but remained open to changing how school money is handed out.

"Most members of the General Assembly recognize inequity is a major problem we have to begin to fix," Manar said. "The approach will be different depending on who you talk to."

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Fred Crespo
Tony Sanders
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