By: Mark Glennon*
Pity Governor Rauner’s new staffers who will have to advise Rauner what to do with the new school funding bill that’s been dumped on them.
I’ve spent the better part of the last five days trying to get a handle on the bill, or even finding credible, secondary sources on what the bill would do. For the most part, that’s impossible.
SB-1, the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act, passed both houses of the Illinois General Assembly. Governor Rauner indicated that, when it’s sent to him for signature, he will execute an amendatory veto to eliminate parts that favor Chicago.
The press is all over the place on what’s in the bill. That starts with big items like how large the bailout is for Chicago. That’s the key objection to the bill. That basic number ranges from as low as $215 million to almost $500 million. Even Rich Miller, who is generally friendly towards this kind of thing, scratched his head in an article yesterday and collected some of the discrepancies in the numbers claimed.
Get further into the details and you’ll find one after another that’s being misreported or is unknowable. For example, the Sun-Times said yesterday that the $220 million going to Chicago schools covers healthcare costs. The CTBA says otherwise. It’s pretty clear the CTBA is right on that one, but on countless other items I’ve found the answer is impossible to get. Rauner hasn’t delivered convincing numbers, either.
What’s for sure is that it’s obtuse and hopelessly opaque. It’s a nightmare of complexity and a triumph of central planning. Key authors who are among those who know what’s in it cannot be trusted.
The bill is full of language like you see on the right. So much for simplifying the school funding formula, which was one of the supposed goals of the bill.
Look at the spreadsheet linked here laying out how the formulas in the bill work, prepared by ISBE, the Illinois State Board of Education. I understand they have an excellent, dedicated staff and they’ve certainly made a heroic effort putting the bill into spreadsheet form.
But you can spend hours on that spreadsheet and come away with more questions than answers.
One lawmaker who has taken the time to dig into the spreadsheet is Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton). When I called her she pointed out two places where the reimbursement to Chicago for its teachers’ pension normal cost appears, and its’ her conclusion that it’s double-counted in the formula. Is that an error in the spreadsheet, an error in the statute, deliberate, or a misreading by Ives? Heck if I can tell.
These things, however, I can say with confidence:
• Schools will have to master and comply with the bill’s Springfield-imposed rules to maximize the money they get from the state. So much for local control of your schools. “Follow the state’s rules on spending. Or else.” That’s how the Sangamon Sun put it in an article today. From all I have seen, I believe that article is accurate.
• The formulas for Tiers One through Four are rigged in Chicago’s favor. The bill assumes an increase in state funding for schools of hundreds of millions each year. If, as is likely, the additional funding doesn’t materialize, complex formulas cut back schools based on which of four tiers they are in. Chicago goes to the head of the line.
• The bill doubles down on an already incomprehensible school formula. The old formula is left in place to provide a floor below which no school can be cut. All the additional complexity fits on top of that.
• Chicago schools already spend far more than the state average. You constantly hear otherwise because bailout supporters look only at state funding sources, ignoring federal and local money. Respecting local money, Chicago has many poor students but its property tax base is far richer than many other school districts.
According to ISBE’s most recent report card for Chicago schools, Chicago spends $15,378 per year on students and Illinois averages $12,821. The difference, we are often told, is that Chicago is the only school district forced to pay for its own pension as well as its share of TRS, the state teachers’ pension.
“To remedy this, SB1 puts CPS on equal ground by making the state responsible for its normal cost pension payments,” says the CTBA, one of SB1’s supporters.
But the normal cost of the Chicago teachers’ pension is only $215 million. You could throw in pensioner healthcare cost, too, which is another $65 million. The total is only $714 per Chicago student. Take that out and you still have Chicago schools outspending the Illinois average by $1,843 per year — 9.7% higher than the state average.
• The entire premise of the bill — “evidence based funding” — is highly suspect. I haven’t reviewed this debate and have no opinion, but I do know you can easily find harsh criticism and research saying the whole think is bunk and has been a failure elswhere. For starters, Google the work of Stanford’s Eric Hanushek. “Pity the states” that adopt it as policy, he wrote.
• Results don’t matter. Just shovel the money. I can find no real consequence or penalty for reducing spending on items that don’t work. Evidence based funding isn’t about evidence on results, which aren’t in the formulas.
• A key architect of the bill is Ralph Martire, and that should terrify you. When Rep. Ives had questions about difficult parts of the bill she was referred to Martire because of his involvement in the formulas and drafting. He’s a serial distortion artist, as we’ve documented before. Most recently, you may have seen him on WTTW arguing that Illinois doesn’t actually have an emigration problem. He runs the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. The CTBA is a union-funded and run propaganda shop. The others who I’m confident fully understand the bill are those who control most legislation — Chicago’s Michael Madigan and John Cullerton.
Shame on everybody who has let SB1 get as far along as it has with such little understanding. That goes for ISBE and most Republicans and Democrats alike. Governor Rauner, too, deserves personal blame.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints. Opinions expressed are his own.
CORRECTED 7/25/17: The section on Chicago schools outspending the state average previously totaled the instructional and operational spending for CPS and for the state. In fact, instructional spending is included in operational spending, contrary to the way the linked school report card is presented. The numbers changed accordingly but the conclusion did not.