Martwick, Mulroe hold meeting on school funding; Senate could vote Sunday
by BRIAN NADIG
The uncertainty over whether there will be changes to the state formula for funding schools this fall adds to the difficulty that school administrators face, according to Ebinger School principal Serena Peterson-Klosa.
Peterson-Klosa made her comments at an Aug. 9 town hall meeting on school funding which state Senator John Mulroe (D-10) and state Representative Robert Martwick (D-19) hosted at the Copernicus Center Annex, 5214 W. Lawrence Ave.
Governor Bruce Rauner recently used his amendatory veto powers to alter Senate Bill 1, which changes how state funds are allocated to schools and which both the House and Senate approved. If legislators do not vote this month to override or to concur with the governor’s changes or come up with a compromise plan that Rauner supports, state funds cannot be distributed to schools in Illinois.
A stream of funding and budget crises in recent years has made it difficult to address the school’s priorities, as staff members faced mandatory furlough days and schools almost closed early last June, Peterson-Klosa said. "I have to put to put money aside because I know there’s mid-year cuts," she said. Chicago Public School laid off more than 1,000 employees this month.
Peterson-Klosa said that she was hoping the instability over school budgets was coming to an end with the state legislature’s passage of a new funding formula. "I was so encouraged SB1 (was approved) in a nonpartisan way," she said.
At Ebinger, classroom sizes in some grades are expected to range between 35 and 39 students this school year. Peterson-Klosa said that many of the school’s parents are city workers who are required to live in Chicago and cannot move to a suburban school district that may have smaller classes or fewer budget problems.
Senate Bill 1 is designed to provide more funding to the neediest school districts, including those with a high percentage of low-income families. Under the legislation, no school district would receive a reduction from its current funding level.
Martwick said that there is "widespread agreement" among educators that the legislation would put Illinois on a path toward correcting an "inequitable" system of how schools have been funded in Illinois for decades. "Every single education expert, they’re all supporting SB1," he said.
According to the Mulroe and Martwick, an override of the veto will be difficult because the governor has positioned the bill as a "Chicago bailout," which they said is untrue because the funding formula is applied in the same way across the state.
"What Downstate legislator is going to vote for a bailout for Chicago. Even if that (claim) is not the case, they have to battle that perception," Martwick said.
Rauner has a $70 million campaign war chest which he will use in the Republican primary to fund candidates to run against incumbents who vote against the governor on key issues, Mulroe said.
Enough Republican legislators hopefully will ignore Rauner’s threats and vote on the merit of the legislation, Mulroe said. The legislation passed the House by a 60-52 vote and 71 votes will be needed to override the veto. In the Senate, the bill passed by a 35-22 vote and 36 votes are needed to override the veto.
The Senate plans to reconvene Sunday, Aug. 20, and the House later this month. "I’m hoping we vote on Sunday," Mulroe said of a possible override.
Approval of Rauner’s changes to the legislation is "less likely" than an override of his veto, Martwick said.
Rauner’s changes include the removal of a block grant for CPS and eliminates tax increment financing "equalized assessed value subsidies that allow districts to continue under-reporting property wealth," according to the governor’s press office.
Supporters of SB1 argue that TIF districts reduce the amount of property tax dollars which school districts receive because municipalities put some of those revenues aside for a variety of roadway and other public and private development projects. In Chicago, some of those TIF dollars have been used for capital improvements at schools.