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Illinois Statewide Collaboration on School Reforms Now Essential

On December 4, 2015, Christine Radogno, Republican leader of the Illinois State Senate, wrote an op-ed piece in the Chicago Tribune  (Rodogno Op-Ed).   Regardless of one’s political affiliation, I believe that all allied professionals and teachers in Illinois public school programs need to be informed of her concerns.

State Senator Rodogno starts by pointing out that in spite of the largest property tax increase in modern Chicago history (on top of a huge surge in real estate appraisals for this year), Mayor Rahm Emanuel knows that this will not be nearly enough to solve the city’s financial mess, which was caused by years of bad policies and poor financial management.   In his defense, supporters point out that he did not create these problems and has been far more honest and responsible than his predecessors in tackling them.  What Senator Rodogno objects to is Mayor Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool asking the state for $500 million in additional funding for CPS.   To understand her objection, the history of Illinois’ pension liabilities needs to be explained.

For more than 100 years, our state has had two distinct teacher pension systems — one for the city of Chicago and one for the rest of Illinois.  Chicago helped create the system in which city residents pay the majority of costs for Chicago teachers, while pensions for downstate and suburban teachers receive state support.  This structure made sense given the size of Chicago’s school population compared to the rest of the state; however, as part of this set-up, CPS receives hundreds of millions of dollars in extra state support that is unavailable to other school districts.

This system worked for Chicago and CPS until they skipped paying into the pension system for an entire decade. The point is worth underscoring: As poorly as Illinois’ finances have been managed over the last couple of decades, Chicago’s finances have been handled even more irresponsibly.   Fifteen years ago, the CPS teachers’ pension system was over 95 percent funded. But due in large measure to those 10 years of skipped payments, today it is only 51.5 percent funded!

Christine Rodogno contends that Chicago City leaders disingenuously claim it is unfair that Chicago residents pay for their own teachers, as well as teachers everywhere else. What they don’t mention, she says, is that the cost of the other special deals that CPS receives every year has risen to $600 million annually.

For example:

  • Chicago has 18 percent of the state’s special education student population, but it receives 30 percent of state special education block grant funding.
  • Chicago has fewer than 19 percent of all students in the state, but it receives approximately 27 percent of the state’s personal property replacement tax paid by corporations.
  • Chicago has 30 percent of the low-income students in the state, but it receives more than 50 percent of all free breakfast and lunch dollars, 42 percent of poverty-based education funding, and 37 percent of early childhood funding for at-risk students.
  • Chicago’s population accounts for 25 percent of communities that receive supplemental property tax funding, yet CPS receives 88 percent of Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) adjustment dollars.

Note:  All statistics cited are from Rodogno’s Op-Ed piece.  They can be verified via independent sources.

All told, sweetheart deals yield CPS an additional $600 million in state education funding by Rodogno’s calculations.  As more Illinois residents understand this, she believes that both suburban and downstate legislators may well begin a revolt against special funding for Chicago schools when they understand the toll CPS is looking to put on their taxpayers and their school districts.

I agree with Christine Rodogno that the only way to avoid an education funding impasse is for Chicago and CPS leaders  to join with downstate and suburban school districts in supporting reforms that would reduce costs for all school districts.   Almost no credible source would deny that the concentration of urban poverty in the CPS system will make the educational costs per student significantly higher than anywhere else in Illinois, but that will not stop this from becoming  a major political issue if statewide collaboration on school reform is not achieved.

Robert M. Hoyt, Ph.D.


Allied Health Professionals LLC



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