* Speaker Madigan said he was holding a meeting this Thursday to discuss the cost shift…
House Speaker Michael Madigan is moving forward with a plan to require local school districts to pay their share of teacher pensions.
Currently the state covers pension payments for teachers in suburban Chicago and downstate Illinois.
Madigan says it’s a “free lunch” for those districts. He says the practice has exacerbated Illinois’ nearly $100 billion crisis and “should come to an end as soon as possible.”
The announcement prompted questions from House Republican leader Tom Cross of Oswego, who has opposed the shift over concerns that property taxes would rise. Cross supported the comprehensive Madigan pension overhaul that the House passed last week.
But Madigan’s move on the cost shift prompted Cross to worry that the focus on fixing the overall retirement system would be lost.
“It’s a matter of staying on point,” Cross said. He said all legislative energy should be centered on getting an overall pension reform bill to the governor. After that happens, he said, the speaker could “talk about anything.”
* It faces a tough road ahead, but…
Jessica Handy, policy director for the education advocacy group Stand for Children, said if the state would pay for everything that it owes for public education, then it would be not be a problem for some schools to pay for their teachers’ pensions.
“We have incredible disparities within our school systems, and general state aid is the one funding mechanism that is fighting that,” Handy said. […]
Handy’s group is pushing a map that she says shows 26 of Illinois’ 102 counties would lose under a cost shift. But that means the majority of Illinois counties could see their schools helped if the state paid for classroom education and not teacher retirement.
“The districts with high property wealth and low poverty counts would prefer to have money (go to pensions),” Handy said. “The districts with high poverty counts and low levels of property wealth would be better if they took that money in general state aid.”