Tuesday, August 1, 2017

If 'bailouts' are good for Wall St., why not neediest schools? Retiree pensions?

(BGA grafic)
Gov. Rauner has vetoed the school funding bill, thereby continuing to deprive the state's neediest districts of millions of dollars and threatening the opening of schools in the fall.

Rauner claims that the bill takes money away from wealthier white districts in order to "bailout" needier, mainly black and Latino districts like Chicago. He also claims, the bill,  "includes a bailout of Chicago’s broken teacher pension system.”

Both claims are false, says the BGA. 

In fact, under the new funding formula no school district gets less state money, but many low-income districts get more. With low-income students accounting for 80.2% of its enrollment, CPS is among the latter group.

The biggest problem with the bill as I see it, is that it fails to identify new sources of revenue, ie. a graduated income tax, making the wealthiest pay their fair share. But nevertheless, the bill, which passed both houses in Springfield needs to be signed, and fast.

Rauner's been using the big-lie technique to play off white students against students of color, urban schools against downstate and suburban schools and everyone against teachers, their unions, and retirees.

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that his "bailout" claims are correct. What's wrong with bailing out public schools or other public institutions in distress? If IL paid its fair share of education dollars, a bailout wouldn't be necessary. IL continues to rank near the bottom when it comes to school funding.

The state, by constitutional mandate, has the primary responsibility for funding its public schools but has never come close to covering even 50% of the cost. In recent years, the state's contribution has dipped below 30%, forcing local school districts to raise their property tax levy or cut programs.

According to the group, Raise Your Hand, IL is 50th out of 50 in percentage of funding that comes from the state. So, public schools rely on local taxing bodies to make up the difference, which causes great inequity between poor and rich districts.

Illinois spent 9% less in real terms on general state aid per student this year than it did five years ago.

IL also has the most unfair school funding system in the nation. The state's school districts with the greatest number of students living in poverty receive substantially fewer state and local dollars than their more affluent counterparts — nearly 20 percent less.

Furthermore, the state hasn't been paying into the State Retirement Fund, as required by law, for decades. As it stands, the state pension fund is underfunded by about $130 billion. If IL had been contributing it's mandated share, no bail out would be needed and the TRS would be is good health. The same is true for Chicago's pension fund.

If a bail out was fine for Wall Street banksters and energy companies, many of whom didn't need it or even want it, why not bail out the schools? The Wall Street bailout does nothing to create jobs, create social equality, or eliminate poverty. A bail out of struggling (through no fault of their own) public school districts, would help do all of the above.

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