— Cullerton wants a rewrite of the state’s school funding formula, and he’s
linking it directly with talks about the overall state budget.
— He and Gov. Bruce Rauner, R-Winnetka, are back on the same page regarding a
pension reform bill.
Cullerton argues the state’s two-decade-old school funding formula doesn’t
adequately address student need and therefore rewards prosperous school
districts while penalizing those with higher levels of poverty.
Speaking at the City Club of Chicago, the Senate president called the school
funding formula the “most inequitable system of school finance in the country”
and “the defining crisis of our times.”
And Cullerton made it clear it’s a big issue for him: “The governor has linked
things together. We don’t have a (fiscal year 2016) budget because he’s got his
Turnaround Agenda. So, I can link things together, too. This is a turnaround
agenda. We’ve got to change the school funding formula.”
Cullerton argued a fair rewrite of the funding formula would ultimately benefit
Chicago but would not be giving it special treatment.
He said Chicago would be getting funding proportionate with its high percentage
of low-income students in the same fashion as other challenged districts, such
as East St. Louis or East Aurora.
And, he said, a single formula must give Chicago pension parity. That is, the
state would pick up the same share of pension costs as it does for downstate
Chicago, however, would lose block grants that it now qualifies for, Cullerton
“It’s not a special deal for Chicago; we’re eliminating the special deals,” he
“The amount of money we are talking about shifting is about $400 million into
the poorer school districts out of about $8 billion,” he said. “It can be done
in a fair way.”
The governor’s press office declined to comment on Cullerton’s remarks, but the
GOP’s legislative leaders did offer emailed statements.
“Senate President Cullerton’s remarks today will strike fear in the hearts of
families and schools across the state. He’s threatening the opening of schools
next fall,” said Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont.
“The Democrat majority-controlled state government for more than ten years and
ignored school funding reform — other than to create special deals for Chicago
Public Schools,” she said. “The most recent proposal again advantaged Chicago at
the expense of suburban school districts.”
Radogno said Senate Republicans “are willing to tackle school funding reform —
but it’s not the only place in Illinois ripe for reform. We need to work
together for school reform and the structural reforms that will help all of
Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs, leader of the House Republicans, said, “As a
suburban legislator, I remain open to working with the Democrats to fix our
archaic school funding formula.”
“At the same time, I hope this means Democratic leadership is now ready to work
with us on other structural reforms to put Illinoisans back to work and to bring
the budget impasse to a close,” Durkin said.
House Speaker Michael Madigan’s spokesman did not a return a phone message
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Illinois is in the seventh month of fiscal year 2016 without a
Rauner complains Democrats sent him a spending plan $4 billion
heavier in spending than estimated revenue.
Democrats complain Rauner and the GOP have been unwilling to work
with them on a plan until the governor gets movement on his own
agenda items, which Democrats do not consider directly related to
the annual budget.
Meanwhile, the state is said to be spending on 90 percent of its
annual obligations as it funds primary and secondary education and
meets expenses incurred by way of debt service, continuing
appropriations and court decrees.
That spending — which does not include higher education nor many
human services — is said to be running at a clip that would put
Illinois as much as $6 billion in the red for fiscal 2016 if nothing
Speaking to reporters after his speech, Cullerton said he and Rauner
had spoken Monday morning and smoothed out their differences on
pension reform legislation, and that bill is now being drafted.
“I think we have an agreement,” Cullerton said. “There are some
tweaks to be made by the lawyers, and then the question’s going to
be, ‘How do we pass it?’”
“All these pension bills in the past that have passed have been very
bipartisan and controversial, so we expect that the unions will
probably not be supportive. So, that will make it more difficult to
pass, but we’re going to be on the same page,” Cullerton said.
The plan reportedly focuses on giving state employees a choice. For
instance, an employee who wants to keep the 3 percent, compounded
cost-of-living raises payable in retirement would have to accept a
lower pensionable salary. On the other hand, the employee could take
the higher salary while working but get smaller cost-of-living
raises while in retirement.
Backers of the Cullerton plan say it could save Illinois — which has
unfunded pension liabilities of more than $111 billion — about $1
However, even supporters acknowledge such a plan likely would face a
court challenge if passed.
The Illinois Supreme Court last year threw out a 2013 pension reform
effort, saying it violated the pension protection clause of the
state constitution that says membership in a public pension system
is a contractual relationship, “the benefits of which shall not be
diminished or impaired.”
Cullerton said he doesn’t expect opposition to the plan from Speaker
Madigan, D- Chicago, who he described as “not reluctant to take on
“The problem is going to be many of our members are probably going
to say, ‘Well, that’s OK; that’s pension reform. But what about the
rest of the budget? What about all the other issues?’”
Cullerton said the pension bill he and Rauner are working on does
not include diminishment of collective bargaining for state
“That’s not part of the deal,” the Senate president said.
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