Understanding SB 1 and Why I Voted NO
As Session wound to a close on Wednesday May 31, Chicago Democrat State Rep. Will Davis brought Senate Bill 1 up for debate. SB 1 is a bill that would dramatically alter Illinois’ public school funding formula. It is a huge piece of legislation that has been in the works for months.
Last year, Governor Rauner commissioned a bipartisan group charged with finding a fair and equitable comprehensive solution to the state’s school funding formula. The Commission met many times over the course of six months, taking hours of testimony from experts, school administrators, and other interested groups on what they thought needed to change.
Again, the goal of the Commission was to come to a comprehensive, bipartisan, ‘agreed-to’ piece of legislation that both Republicans and Democrats could support. The negotiations were going well and SB 1 was looking as if it would find bipartisan support across the Senate and House. But, that was before Senate Democrats started freezing out their colleagues on the Republican side and added dubious and expensive new items to the bill.
The insertion of language that allows for a massive bailout of the city of Chicago’s public schools is perhaps the most egregious example of what I mean. The bill that eventually passed the Senate takes $250 million off the top of the education budget to pay for Chicago Public Schools pension obligations. The bailout language was a poison pill and Senate Republicans refused to go along. Still, the bill made its way to the House.
It is a shame that the Democrat leadership walked away from negotiations in order to run legislation with the single largest bailout of Chicago Public Schools in Illinois history. Since it has been 20 years since the last reform to the school funding formula, House and Senate Republicans have demanded that downstate schools be treated fairly and equitably in any final solution. We may only get one chance to get this type of reform and I want to get it right.
77% of Illinois’ school children attend public schools outside the city of Chicago. However, in SB 1, only 30% of the new funding would make its way to those students. The rest goes to the city of Chicago’s schools.
Let me be clear, I am not opposed to Chicago schools receiving state funding. The kids in the city of Chicago deserve adequate funding for a good education. However, the management at CPS has made a disaster of the school system’s finances. They have skipped making some or all of 11 pension payments in the last 25 years. I will not support the taxpayers of southern Illinois having their taxes continue to go up and up and up in order to subsidize Chicago schools.
Perhaps the most important reason I voted NO on SB 1 is because it does not include appropriations or define any methods of paying for the spending that’s promised in the legislation. Schools across the state have already been short-changed; they are currently owed $1.1 billion in missed payments from just this fiscal year alone. More empty promises will only increase the uncertainty already facing school boards and administrations.
Before negotiations were halted by majority Democrats, legislators were very close to a bipartisan agreement. But I could not abide the Chicago bailout and the pie-crust-promises in the bill – easily made, and easily broken. Southern Illinois Republican legislators stand ready to get back to the negotiating table to find a true fix to the school funding formula. It’s time to get the job done for all Illinois students.
State Representative Terri Bryant – 115th District