The top Democrat in the Illinois Senate is once again talking about a plan
that could save the state $3 billion a year: Have local schools pay for
their own pensions.
SUGGESTION: Cullerton's suggestion is not just a helpful hint.
"For some reason, the state is the 'employer' for the employer contribution
for suburban and downstate school teachers," Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said Thursday.
"There's $3 billion that goes to pay for downstate and suburban teachers'
pensions. Chicago gets $10 million."
Cullerton is suggesting local schools pay for their own pensions.
Illinois has long talked about a cost shift, but a new move this year to
also change Illinois' school funding formula could mean this is the year for
"(Republicans) say, 'We got to change the school aid formula, and correct
that first'," Cullerton added. "Fine, we want to do both."
Cullerton's former chief of staff, now state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill,
has a plan to lump Illinois' $6 billion for public schools into one pile and
send it out based on need.
Cullerton didn't say when he expects the new school funding plan to come up
for a vote. Lawmakers have until the end of May to approve legislation this
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Ben Schwarm, deputy executive director of the Illinois
Association of School Boards, said local schools have heard the
suggestion of a pension cost shift before.
"As we go down the road, some form of a cost shift might be
discussed, and a school district might have to look at that," but Schwarm said he's not sure this year is the year.
Schwarm notes a new report card from the Illinois State Board of
Education shows more schools than ever are in financial distress.
The report card said one third of Illinois students are enrolled in
a district in financial trouble.
"I can't think of a worse time to bring up a cost shift to local
schools," Schwarm said.
He said if lawmakers want local schools to pay for local teachers'
pensions, the state will also have to let schools decide on what
those pensions will look like.
"If they would turn the entire thing over to the school district,
and you could do the pension program you want," Schwarm said that
might help schools absorb the $3 billion cost of teacher pensions.
"You could do a 401(k) if you want. You could do whatever benefit
selection you want."
Currently the state sets pensions benefits, and lawmakers have
refused to push for a 401(k) style retirement system despite an
almost $200 million pension shortfall.
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