Longo: Madigan should not be ‘misinformed’ on schools
By Margaret Longo June 29, 2012 7:58PM
Updated: August 2, 2012 10:35AM
“Let’s eliminate the free lunch for school districts outside of Chicago,” House Speaker Michael Madigan recently said, referring to suburban and downstate districts not having to pay for their teacher pension costs.
Mr. Speaker, it’s time for you to become better educated on the issue. Either your sources aren’t accurate, or it’s time to reassess the information provided by your spin doctors.
There is an inherent problem in Illinois in the overall funding of public schools because of a glaring flaw in state payments to the Chicago Public Schools as compared with suburban and downstate school districts.
CPS gets a disproportionate share of state and federal funds based on an archaic, obsolete funding formula.
But why confuse the story with the facts?
The Legislature passed a law providing for annual contributions in excess of $400 million to the CPS pension fund, starting in 2010. Check out the CPS budget, which is posted online, Mr. Speaker.
The Chicago Public Schools educate 16 percent of the children in Illinois, with the suburban and downstate districts educating the rest. The state’s funding formula for Chicago Public Schools — money for special education, bus transportation, free and reduced lunch and breakfast programs, summer school and educational service centers — is based on fiscal year 1996 student population totals that have not been updated.
Since then, CPS has lost enrollment, but the money has stayed with the school system, which now has a disproportionate share of funding relative to the number of students it serves.
As an example, Chicago Public Schools receive funding for teaching disabled students through a grant based on the old enrollment figures. CPS now educates 15 percent of the students with disabilities but receives 42 percent of the funding for special education. Is this the free lunch you spoke of, Mr. Speaker?
Another illustration of the disproportionate funding for Chicago Public Schools concerns students lacking English language skills. CPS has 26 percent of such students but an outdated formula results in the school system getting 40 percent of the money to educate them.
A more recent example is the federal grant program entitled “Race to the Top III.” Chicago Public Schools receive 89 percent of the money allotted to public schools in Illinois, or $19 million of the $21 million disbursed.
School districts throughout Illinois deal regularly with unfunded and underfunded mandates, and, thanks mostly to local taxpayers, our schoolchildren still get services despite the lack of federal and state funds. The taxpayers pay because most government education funds do not follow the students.
If you asked suburban taxpayers if they would rather pay $164 more per year toward teacher pension costs (to supposedly equal how much more Chicago taxpayers pay) or get millions of dollars for their schools that now go to CPS through an unfair and archaic funding formula, I think they would choose the latter.
It is time to look at the big picture relative to funding public education and let the money follow the children.
Mr. Speaker, when you want to speak about an important issue such as pension reform, state the facts instead of generating false information. It is imperative to provide clear and accurate information to our taxpayers.
End the practice of misinforming them. They deserve better. They deserve the truth.
Margaret Longo is superintendent in Forest Ridge School District 142, which is based in Oak Forest.