* Dusty Rhodes has written the best article on the school funding reform debate I’ve yet seen. Go read the whole thing…
All districts receive state reimbursement for seven “categoricals” above what they receive in General State Aid. Since 1995, CPS has received its reimbursement in the form of a block grant. But as enrollment has declined and the block grant has not, CPS now receives about $250 million more from this block grant than it would if it had to submit vouchers for reimbursement. The Democrats, sticking to the “hold harmless” concept, would bake that $250 million into CPS’s base funding minimum. The Republicans would allow CPS to keep four categorical bonuses that add up to about $50 million; the remaining $202 million would be redistributed via the new funding formula.
Here’s how Barickman explained it at the Saturday hearing:
“When you make adjustments to the Base Funding Minimum for Chicago, and that’s the only place where adjustments are made, that eats up dollars first that cannot then go through the formula,” he said. “And for all of us who purport to say we want to fix the formula and create something with equity, the way in which we do that is by driving money through the formula.”
As a result of these conflicting interpretations of “hold harmless,” the two school funding bills run very different amounts of funding through the new formula. The Democrats’ most recent model assumes a $350 million appropriation (despite their own appropriation bill setting aside only $288 million). The Republicans’ model uses $672 million through the new formula, which results in much larger dollar amounts promised to each district. That $672 million includes fiscal year 2017 appropriation plus the $288 million proposed by Democrats, along with the $202 million taken from Chicago Public Schools’ block grant. (Despite conflicting testimony at Saturday’s hearing, this amount does not appear to include the “equity grant” that was given to districts with heavy concentrations of low-income kids). […]
Both the Chicago pension fund and TRS have massive unfunded liability. In the upcoming fiscal year, the state’s TRS payments will increase from $4 billion to $4.6 billion. Jessica Handy, with the statewide advocacy organization Stand For Children, testified Saturday that CPS’s statutorily required pension payment will be $721 million. The Democrats’ plan would provide a partial accommodation to CPS by adding a $500 million credit to its “local capacity target.”
What’s a local capacity target? In simple terms, both bills (Democrat and Republican) use a model built on interactive parts, like a mobile you’d see hanging over a baby’s crib. When one part is pulled down, the opposite side goes up. The State Board would calculate for each district an “adequacy target” (the amount needed to fund schools) and a “local capacity target” (the amount the district can be expected to generate using local property taxes). The state would supply funding to bridge the gap in between.
Ralph Martire, with the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, helped write the Democrats’ plan, and on Saturday, he tried to explain that it handles CPS legacy pension costs less like a gift and more like a tax credit.
“The way we decided to deal with that in SB 1 was to acknowledge they can’t spend the same tax dollar twice,” Martire said. “So if they have to devote their local capacity to covering these unfunded liability costs, that local capacity is also not available to help fund schools.”
Another major point of contention on Saturday was whether the hold-harmless should be done on a per-district basis or a per-pupil basis. The Democrats’ plan uses district funding; Republicans, in an effort to compromise, use district funding for the first few years and then switch to per-pupil. That switch could result in decreased funding for districts that have lost enrollment. Rep. Christian Mitchell, a Democrat from Chicago, did a little research on how that might play out, and found that the majority of schools that have lost enrollment are in Republican-held districts.