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Barickman's School Funding 'Compromise' Focuses On CPS

The school funding debate continues to revolve around the issue of Chicago Public Schools.
Wikipedia Commons
The school funding debate continues to revolve around the issue of Chicago Public Schools.

Earlier this week, a group of Illinois Republicans announced a series of compromise measures they said could lead to a state budget. It includes a revised school funding plan, sponsored by State Senator Jason Barickman, of Bloomington.

Barickman calls his latest plan quote a huge step forward.

It omits controversial language about collective bargaining, and on some areas, it duplicates the Democrats' plan, known as Senate Bill 1. But like Gov. Bruce Rauner and his education czar, Beth Purvis, Barickman still isn't happy with that plan.

Dusty Rhodes: There’s been recent publicity where Dr. Beth Purvis has said that the governor likes 90 percent of Senate Bill 1 but will veto it, and that was due to the Chicago Block Grant. Is staying with the status quo better than passing Senate Bill 1 if your compromise doesn’t make it?
Sen. Jason Barickman: The status quo’s not acceptable. I’ve been abundantly clear for years on that. Now, to Beth Purvis’s comment, here’s what I’ll tell you: The 10 percent is 100 percent of the problem. The 10 percent is reflective of the gimmicks and the special deals that are baked into the current funding formula to benefit PS.

What's in that block grant? It's mainly seven funding streams that all districts receive as reimbursement for certain expenses like transportation and special ed. Districts outside of Chicago have to submit receipts to earn reimbursement. But way back in 1995, lawmakers approved giving CPS a flat amount -- a block grant.

Fast forward to today and CPS enrollment has declined to the point that its block grant is $250 million more than it can justify in receipts for these seven specific expenditures. Barickman's latest plan would allow CPS to keep a portion of that.

Sen. Barickman: Republicans are agreeing that some of the funding for the Chicago block grant would be included in our base funding, specifically for funding for children (with exceptional needs), personal reimbursement, and summer school.

DR: So the three pieces that you’ve moved into the base funding minimum, those are kind of the smaller of the seven. What does that amount to? About $50 million?

Sen. Barickman: That sounds about right.

DR: Okay, then the part that you’re not pulling in would be about $200 million.

JB: That’s about right.

DR: Okay. Taking away this $200 million overage that Chicago’s been getting — that is a loss to them, right?

Sen. Barickman: No. The question of gains and losses will be the result of a simulation run by the Illinois State Board of Education, which we have requested and will publish as soon as we’re able to.

DR: I’m glad to hear that you’re planning to release your model on the State Board of Education website, because in the recent past, there’s been some really shorthand information put out by both Dan Proft, who runs a Republican political action committee, and by Republican state representatives, that give just a really, you know, here’s two or three columns of numbers that allege to show how this whole thing shakes out. And those numbers are… I don’t know. How would you characterize them?

Sen. Barickman:The only numbers for which we have absolute confidence are the numbers put out by ISBE. So the best thing we can do as legislators is get numbers run by ISBE and get them published.

DR: Before we move on from Chicago Public Schools, remind me why is Chicago Public Schools so bad? Why is that such a bone of contention -- this $250 million overage that they’ve been getting. Is there evidence that they’re mis-spending this money? I know a lot  of their schools are in really bad shape, according to our governor; I’ve interviewed kids who say they don’t have textbooks, they don’t have computers, so what is so bad about Chicago Public Schools? Just remind us downstaters.

Sen. Barickman: Well no, I mean look, I think there’s people that would love to take the bait and run with that one, but that’s not what this is about with me. This is about an acknowledgement that there are many needy school districts all around the state. I believe that the Chicago Public School system is one of them. But when I say that they’re one of them, I don’t believe it’s fair to simply say that because they’re the largest school district by population that they should be first in line for receiving windfalls and overages that they’re not otherwise entitled to.

DR: So you can make the argument that Chicago’s gotten special treatment because they have this overage. You can also make the argument that Chicago’s being singled out, given especially bad treatment, by being the one distric that loses money from the general concept that no district loses money except Chicago.

Sen. Barickman: The question, whether you believe it or not, is not factually accurate. You know, the state doesn’t pay Chicago’s (teacher) pensions. [The state pays teacher and administrator pensions for all other Illinois school districts.] Now, we have said, well, the state doesn’t pay their pensions; we give them a block grant. And so it’s not fair to say that Chicago’s losing money when  you take away the block grant any more than it’s fair to say that Chicago is getting a significant increase when the state picks up their pensions. You have to look at it in totality.

DR: Speaking of pensions, you took that out of the bill and it would be moved to a different bill. Is that right?

Sen. Barickman: We’re saying: We agree to pick up the pensions, but in doing so, let’s do it in an open and transparent way, let’s have the state simply pay them.

DR: But under your proposal the state would be picking up Chicago’s normal pension costs? Or normal plus legacy?

Sen. Barickman: Normal. And we hope that Democrats will not further move the goalposts here so that we can get this done. This is what they’ve been asking for, so now we do it.

DR: All right. But just to balance the legacy pension issue, Teacher Retirement System also has a big backlog of unpaid liability that I hear is around $600 million that the state would have to pay.

Sen. Barickman: I don’t know whether that’s accurate, but here’s the bottom line, Dusty: We’re trying to fix a broken school funding formula. The broken pension system has never been a goal of us fixing the inequitable and unfair school funding formula.

Representative Will Davis, of Homewood, sponsors the Democrats school funding reform plan. He says Barickman's latest amendment is not a compromise, and appears designed to hurt CPS and other low-income districts.

After a long career in newspapers (Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News, Anchorage Daily News, Illinois Times), Dusty returned to school to get a master's degree in multimedia journalism. She began work as Education Desk reporter at NPR Illinois in September 2014.
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