Schools plead different sides of proposed state funding shakeup

  • Supporters for fair education funding hold up signs outside a House Education committee hearing room at the state Capitol on Tuesday in Springfield, Ill.

    Supporters for fair education funding hold up signs outside a House Education committee hearing room at the state Capitol on Tuesday in Springfield, Ill. Associated Press

  • Susan Kerr, a member of the Elgin Area District U-46 Citizens Advisory Council, watches a rally in the Illinois Capitol Tuesday.

      Susan Kerr, a member of the Elgin Area District U-46 Citizens Advisory Council, watches a rally in the Illinois Capitol Tuesday. Mike Riopell | Staff Photographer

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois lawmakers Tuesday faced a parade of school officials, some begging the state to make them winners and the others fearing they'd soon be made losers.

Lawmakers did neither.

After an Illinois House hearing Tuesday to air opinions from across the state, lawmakers will continue to consider a controversial proposal aimed at sending more money to poorer Illinois school districts. It has drawn the ire of many suburban officials whose districts would stand to lose money as a result.

If the Illinois House can't strike a deal soon, the debate over how the state's schools are paid for could be left as a key issue facing the new class of lawmakers who will be sworn in next year.

Suburban school officials fell on both sides of the debate on the legislation known as Senate Bill 16.

Indian Prairie District 204 Superintendent Karen Sullivan told the panel deep cuts to the money the Naperville and Aurora school system gets from the state would mean teacher layoffs and program cuts because asking local property taxpayers for more won't work.

"We view that option as unacceptable based on the rates they currently pay," Sullivan said.

But Elgin Area School District U-46 would be one of the biggest winners under the proposal, and CEO Tony Sanders said lawmakers need to change how it pays for schools soon.

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"The time is now," he said. "We can't wait for the right time to do it."

It could be a tough issue to solve in a hurry. Republican Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner takes office in January and has asked lawmakers not to take on any big issues before then. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn hasn't played a leading role in the issue and isn't rushing lawmakers along, either.

Plus, lawmakers have already been fighting over school money for years, driven by a large gap between how much wealthier districts and poorer districts can afford to spend.

The controversy can drive a wedge between regions of the state, complicating the already tough fight over the state's finances.

When Superintendent David Lett from downstate Pana was asked what he'd tell suburban school officials that are decrying possible program cuts, Lett said, "Welcome to my world."

The proposal addressed in Tuesday's hearing was approved by the Illinois Senate in the spring. House Democrats said the proposal must change before it moves forward and won't be voted on until then.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Let's take our time and find the correct answers," Villa Park-Lombard Elementary District 45 Assistant Superintendent for Finance Vickie Nissen said.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat who voted for the plan in the spring, says he'll file legislation Wednesday that would prevent suburban school districts from losing state money in any shake-up.

The law would kick in only if lawmakers change the state's school funding formula. The proposal says the state can't give a school district less money than it did the year before.

"We also don't want to punish students from districts that are successful," Kotowski said.

The Illinois House and Senate will meet for the first time on Wednesday since the election Wednesday. They also face big questions about Cook County pension cuts and regulations of ride-sharing companies like Uber.

Suburban school officials say they'll work with lawmakers to find a schools solution.

"I do believe that we need to work with you," Carpentersville-based Community Unit District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid said.

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