DuPage school districts talk state funding with legislators

 
 
Updated 9/24/2014 6:57 PM

Representatives from three DuPage school districts heard from state leaders on both sides of the aisle Wednesday about the impact of a proposed law to make sweeping changes in the way the state funds education.

Officials from Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200, Naperville Unit District 203 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204 met with legislators in Naperville to discuss the possible impact of Senate Bill 16.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The bill, which passed the Senate earlier this year, attempts to reduce disparities between districts by directing more state money to poorer districts at the expense of wealthier ones.

It would require schools to demonstrate need before receiving state money and, as a result, reduce the amount of aid given to wealthier districts.

Before the legislators spoke, each superintendent gave an overview of the changing demographics of their districts and key initiatives to maintain their excellence.

The percentage of low-income students in District 200, they said, is at 25 percent. In District 204, about 17 percent of students are low-income and in District 203 it's roughly 16 percent.

It's estimated District 200 would lose about 82 percent of its state aid, or about $9.8 million, should the bill be passed as is. District 203 would lose 76 percent of state aid while District 204 would lose 41 percent.

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Republican State Rep. Ron Sandack of Downers Grove said he hasn't been invited to meetings hosted by the bill's sponsor, Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from downstate, because Manar knows he won't get Sandack's vote.

"Deals are being made or offered and they're not to this room's benefit at all," he said. "Taking from school districts that are struggling and giving it to worse struggling school districts ... is not the way to address education."

Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton said she's offended House Speaker Michael Madigan has excluded Republicans from meetings about the proposed overhaul.

"I find it pretty egregious when the taxpayers I represent, the schools I represent, do not have a voice at the table when major discussions are going on about education funding," she said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ives also expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of funding that would be going, for example, to District 200 -- which she said would drop to about $166 per pupil -- compared to that of a school district with a low college readiness rate, such as East Aurora School District 131, which she says would start receiving nearly $7,000 per pupil.

"This is not a fair process, it's not an open process and I'll tell you what: my taxpayers are fired up," she said. "We feel under attack."

But some lawmakers assured officials the bill will be significantly altered before it passes through the House.

Sen. Linda Holmes, a Democrat from Aurora, said she only voted for the bill because she wanted to get conversations started about school funding and inequities. She said she was assured by sponsors that it would not pass the House without major changes.

"I'm pleased they're having discussions because I think it's important to talk about children and our education and how we fund education, " she said. "But on the other hand, I don't want all the anxiety and angst that these parents must be going through, thinking Senate Bill 16, as written, could possibly go anywhere."

Democratic Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant of Shorewood said she voted for the bill after realizing how students are getting "completely different opportunities" based on where they live.

"I think you need to focus on education for all our students," she said.

Other legislators present at the meeting included Sen. Michael Connelly of Lisle, Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Aurora, Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia of Aurora, Rep. Natalie Manley of Joliet and Rep. Darlene Senger of Naperville.

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