The Grand Bargain is a package of interlocking legislation designed to break the state budget impasse in Illinois. How important is school funding to that deal? Important enough that leaders titled it Senate Bill One.
Under the plan filed by Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), the state would freeze funding at current levels. Any additional dollars would be distributed based on each district’s demographics and unique needs, channeling the bulk of the money toward low-income districts.
Technically titled Amendment 1 to Senate Bill 1, it’s a plan designed to address the notorious inequity that has plagued the state’s school funding system for decades.
“You know, the impact of this bill will be measured mostly by how much new money is put behind it,” Manar says. “Because if there’s no new money, nobody changes."
The plan uses ideas from the so-called “evidence-based model” first touted by Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington). He issued a statement today saying he’s “cautiously optimistic” about Manar’s amendment. “Senator Manar and I have recently worked through a number of complicated issues to address the inequities in our current formula,” Barickman’s statement says.
The plan contains a new solution to one of the most hotly-debated issues last session: Chicago Public Schools teacher pensions. CPS is currently the only district in the state responsible for the pensions of teachers and administrators, and every effort to shift that duty to the state was opposed by Republicans as a “Chicago bailout.” Manar’s amendment would have the state would pick up the normal costs of Chicago teacher pensions. It would end CPS’s block grant, technically, but the district would end up with the same amount of state aid.
Manar knows that’s a controversial idea, but says his colleagues have demonstrated they won’t pass any law that costs their home districts money.
“If there’s going to be the approach that no district loses money, then that’s what it should be: No district loses money from Cairo to Chicago,” he says.
This makes the fourth plan Manar has filed in his effort to send more money to districts with low property values, and represents a compromise from his previous plans.
“Is that everything that we have been asking for? No, it isn’t,” he says. “But is it eliminating the least equitable system in the country and turning on a new system that addresses inequity? Without question, that’s what this bill does.”