Friends and Neighbors,
I wanted to provide a school funding update and report on this week's legislative action in Springfield. For those of you who shared your thoughts with me via email or otherwise, your input was invaluable as I navigated the challenges of the school funding battle.
As you may have heard, yesterday the House failed to override SB1 despite my best efforts and the efforts of so many of you. Unfortunately, the votes just weren't there.
It quickly became clear that the only option, short of entering a period of uncertainty and impasse, was to accept the bipartisan agreement and move our schools forward. The legislation was a "take it or leave it" proposal. After talking to advocates, reviewing the bill and considering the input of constituents, I joined the majority of my colleagues in taking the deal. The bill passed the House and the Senate, and awaits the Governor's signature.
I think it's important to note that this agreement was a compromise, but a compromise worth making. We - public school advocates - got over 90% of what we wanted in this bill, but had to give on the remaining 10%.
The specifics are as follows:
• The provisions of SB1 remain largely intact, providing an evidence-based funding model that considers numerous factors, including district resources, the demographics of the community, the proportion of low income or special needs students, etc.
• Under the new formula, CPS will gain over $340M state dollars over what they received in FY17.
• The bill finally provides pension parity for CPS teacher pensions, which equates to $221M annually. Additionally, CPS' legacy pension costs will be accounted for and embedded in the formula. This is an incredible victory for CPS and Chicago taxpayers.
• CPS' maximum pension levy cap will be raised to .567%.
• The bill creates a tax credit scholarship pilot program, providing a tax credit (.75 for every dollar) for individuals who donate to scholarships for private schools. The amount of the program will be capped at $75M annually and will expire in 5 years.
As a strong and committed advocate for our public schools, I oppose the use of public funds for private schools and have consistently pushed back on this concept. I plan to work to repeal this portion of the bill as soon as possible. However, the program, while difficult to swallow, is limited and temporary. The tax credits will expire in 5 years, and at maximum only represent about 1% of total school funding in Illinois.
In contrast, CPS will have an additional $450M in funding available in FY18 over FY17, including state and local sources, along with the pension changes I outlined. While certainly not adequate, it will bring us closer to that goal than we've ever been before.
I strive every day to do what is best for the schools in my community, and consider the principals, teachers and CPS families partners in this effort. As we do every year, my staff and I attended numerous Local School Council budget meetings this summer. It was clear that without state funding support, our neighborhood school budgets would be devastated beyond repair.
I firmly believe the benefits of this bill will outweigh the difficult but temporary price we had to pay to address our inequitable school funding formula and direct necessary dollars to public education.
There was simply no viable alternative - to do nothing would have driven our schools into a funding impasse similar to what we faced on the state budget for the past two years and jeopardized the ability of schools to open in the fall. Additionally, we would have lost the opportunity to ensure schools in Illinois would be funded equitably for the first time in decades. CPS would be forced to borrow more, saddling Chicago taxpayers with even more debt. Most importantly, we would have hurt the very people we have been fighting for - the CPS students.
Thank you again for your input and advocacy on behalf of our neighborhood schools.
Ann M. Williams