SPRINGFIELD — A new study compiled by Democrats in the Illinois House raises questions about Republican claims that Chicago schools get an outsized share of state education dollars.
The eight-page report, obtained by the Times Springfield Bureau, claims that GOP lawmakers in the Senate used selective data in order to argue against an assertion by top Democrats that downstate school districts should pay a bigger share toward teacher pension costs.
Further, the report notes that some of the unfairness outlined by Republicans was actually created by a Republican-led General Assembly.
For example, Republicans said that Chicago Public Schools receive 30 percent of the funds for special education, yet have 17 percent of the special-needs students in the state.
"Chicago Public Schools block grants were established in the 1995 Republican school reform measure," the new report notes.
The Democratic response serves as the latest counterpunch in the ongoing debate over the state's massive pension funding problems.
Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan think downstate school districts should have to contribute a larger share toward teacher pensions as a way to help address the state's $97 billion pension shortfall.
Republicans in the Senate, however, say that's not fair because Chicago gets a bigger slice of the education funding pie.
As an example, Republicans say Chicago schools get 49 percent of a property tax cap adjustment but have 18 percent of the students in the state. They also say Chicago gets 47 percent of poverty grant funding but has 31 percent of the children in poverty.
The end result is more funding per student in the Chicago school system than for students downstate and in southern Illinois, Republican state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld of Okawville said in a recent interview.
In their study, however, Democrats said Republicans weren't using comparable data.
"In each instance, just by looking at comparable data, we determined that CPS was getting its fair share, if not less than its fair share, of school funding," the study noted.
Republicans say the cost-shift backed by Quinn and Madigan would force downstate districts to raise property taxes and have sought to kill the idea, leaving pension talks at a standstill.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Madigan continues to think a cost shift is needed.
"I think it's a top priority of the speaker," Brown said.
He points to university officials who have agreed to take on a bigger role in funding the pensions of their employees.
In a letter issued April 4, the presidents of the state's public universities said they support the concept of a cost shift if the added costs are phased in "slowly."
Talks in the House designed to craft a pension solution are on hold for now. Members of the House don't meet again until April 30.