Steve's Blog

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

If Not SB 1, Then What?

As I said in my previous post, my problem with SB 1 is the fact that it provides for funding of the Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) normal pension cost within the framework of a bill that’s supposed to focus on money for the classroom.

The Republican alternative to SB 1, SB 1124/HB 4069 contains all of the elements of the “evidence based model”, which means that as far as the meat of the bills are concerned, there’s no difference between the two. Our alternative makes other changes that would provide additional funds to districts throughout the state and provide other cost-saving elements.

As it relates to CPS, our bill makes the following changes:

  • The Chicago Block Grant is eliminated, though $50 million of what was in the Block Grant is incorporated into CPS’ Base Funding Minimum. The other $202 million would be run through the new formula.
  • In exchange for the elimination of 80% of the Block Grant, SB 1124 keeps the funding of CPS’ normal pension cost. (I’m not crazy about this.)
  • CPS’ normal pension costs are no longer included in its “base funding minimum” and its legacy costs are no longer reduce its “local capacity”. That combination allows CPS to remain in Tier 1, giving it an estimated $30 million in extra funding as previously noted.

Thus, I’m estimating that CPS gets $301 million over and above what it’d get if it was thrown in with the rest of the great unwashed ($50 million block grant + $221 million pension cost + $30 million for being in Tier 1 instead of Tier 2).

There are other things in SB 1124 that provide relief to school districts that aren’t included in SB 1:

  • School districts may contract with commercial driver training schools to offer driver’s education without having to go through the waiver process.
  • School board may determine the schedule or frequency of physical education courses, provided that a pupil engages in a course of physical education for a minimum of 3 days per week.
  • In contracts for third party non-instructional services, removes a requirement that the third party provide a benefits package comparable to the benefits school board employees who perform those services. (CPS has been able to do this for years.)
  • School districts need not comply with and may discharge any unfunded mandate or requirement placed on school districts by the School Code or by administrative rules adopted by the State Board of Education (except for life safety, Federal mandates and civil rights protections).
  • If a school district’s Adequacy Target meets or exceeds 110%, the question of establishing a lower tax rate for educational purposes than that in effect by the school district shall be submitted to the voters of the school district at a consolidated election (CPS) or a regular school board election (all other school districts).

The last point regarding property taxes is pretty weak. Any district exceeding 110% of adequacy has the kind of property wealth that normally supports school districts with facilities and services over and above the normal district that’s struggling to keep its doors open. Wilmette doesn’t need property tax relief near as much as the South Suburbs, which have among the lowest adequacy targets in the state. If you’re curious as to how other districts in Illinois compare with Chicago regarding property taxes, click on the photo to the left.

The bottom line is that SB 1 took a relatively straightforward means of determining how schools should be funded and turned it into something that we’ve experienced all too often in this state: money circling a drain. The Republican alternative is a superior bill, and if the Governor issues an amendatory veto of SB 1, replacing it with SB 1124, we’ll all be better off.

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