New schools plan could go easier on some suburban districts

 
 
Updated 2/4/2015 6:04 AM
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  • A new proposal on funding schools in Illinois may mean that suburban schools wouldn't lose as much money as they would have under a proposal last fall.

      A new proposal on funding schools in Illinois may mean that suburban schools wouldn't lose as much money as they would have under a proposal last fall. John Starks | Staff Photographer, 2005

Changes to a controversial school funding plan aim to soften the blow to some suburban schools that would have lost money under a previous version, supporters said Monday.

But they can't yet say how districts across Illinois would fare under a proposal to redistribute the state's school money because state education officials haven't yet run the numbers.

State Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat, says his plan to send more state cash to school districts that don't benefit from high local property values would now consider that it's more expensive for suburban schools to operate because the local cost of living is higher than it is downstate.

That could mean suburban school districts wouldn't lose as much money as most did under a proposal that sparked controversy last fall.

"It's a fact that it costs more to hire a teacher in one part of the state as opposed to another," Manar said.

He's also asking for $500 million more for schools to make it all work, an amount of money that could be tough to find as lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner have been talking about the state's deep financial problems.

State Sen. Karen McConnaughay, a St. Charles Republican, says she is concerned that Manar's new legislation might stir up some of the same issues as last year's proposal.

"If we're going to try to beef up education in other parts of the state, the concern is, are you doing it on the backs of the constituency that is already paying the majority of funding in education?" McConnaughay said.

She says those who opposed the proposal last year were not allowed to be part of the creation of the legislation.

"I'm a little concerned that we may have the same sort of situation where he brings forward a piece of legislation that doesn't take into account the concerns that come from various parts of the state," McConnaughay said.

The new proposal also would raise the amount a family could make and still be considered low-income. School districts get more state money if they have more low-income families. It also would change the way special education money is handed out and fast-track a study about how much money the state spends on schools overall.

Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders continues to support Manar's school funding reform efforts. His district was set to be one of the biggest winners under last year's plan, and he's backing the new one before it's clear how well his district would do under the new version.

"I'm here to fully support Senate Bill 1, and I do so not even knowing the impact that Senate Bill 1 will have on our school district," Sanders said. "If this is done right, I don't have to worry about what the impact will be on my school district."

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