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Steans: CPS state takeover plan irresponsible, ignores the real issues

steans cps 012016CHICAGO – State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago 7th) issued the following statement today on the announcement by Republican legislative leaders that they plan to file legislation allowing for a state takeover of the Chicago Public Schools:

The Chicago Public Schools educate nearly 400,000 students, almost 90 percent of them from low-income households. Five percent are homeless. Almost one-fifth are learning English as a second language. Yet against the odds and starved of resources, the state’s largest school district is achieving higher test scores and graduation rates for its students.

But the irresponsible agenda Gov. Rauner’s legislative allies rolled out today isn’t a reflection of those realities; it’s another politically motivated distraction from what the state and its public schools really need.

They portray their plan as merely a matter of fairness – adding CPS to an existing law allowing for state intervention in certain districts. But this could not be farther from the truth.

Illinois’ current intervention law does not require or even allow bankruptcy; in fact, Illinois does not permit any unit of government to declare bankruptcy, and the current situation in Michigan demonstrates the serious pitfalls of rushing to release governments from their financial obligations. In addition, CPS educates more than 14 times the number of students in the largest district currently eligible for state intervention. The State Board of Education is simply not equipped to manage such a large, complex and diverse system of schools.

The bottom line isn’t changing: Illinois needs a balanced budget, and Illinois’ public schools desperately need adequate and fairly distributed resources. Today’s announcement distracted from these difficult but essential objectives. If the governor and his allies in the General Assembly want to treat Chicago students fairly, they should start by supporting parity for CPS in state education funding and contributions toward teacher pensions.

Harmon: State budget crisis, not Chicago takeover, should be GOP’s priority

harmon 120715Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) today called on Republican leaders in the General Assembly to focus on solutions to the state’s budget crisis rather than proposing such ill-conceived ideas as a state takeover of the finances of the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools.

“Illinois’ own well-documented fiscal problems deserve the full, undivided attention of GOP leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner right now,” Harmon said. “If Illinois under Gov. Rauner’s leadership can’t find a way to fund basic human services and grants promised to needy college students, it’s certainly in no position to take over Chicago Public Schools.”

Harmon’s remarks are in response to a proposal backed by Republican leaders Sen. Christine Radogno and Rep. Jim Durkin that would allow an emergency takeover over the finances of the City of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools. The proposal also would give the city and the school district the ability to declare bankruptcy – a major component of Gov. Rauner’s controversial agenda for state and local governments.

Harmon noted the irony of Republican leaders who are defenders of local control touting a plan that would wrest local control from Chicago taxpayers.

“Notably, Republicans are the ones who put the control of Chicago’s public schools in the hands of the mayor back in 1995,” Harmon said. “The Republicans are strong proponents of local control except when they’re not.”

Illinois Senate honors fallen Vermilion County hero

usflagDANVILLE- State Senator Scott Bennett passed House Joint Resolution 99 to rename a section of Illinois Route 1 that runs from the south end of Westville to Georgetown the “Sergeant Kenneth R. Nichols, Jr. Memorial Highway.”

“This resolution honors Sergeant Nichols, a proud son of Vermilion County, who gave his life in service to our country,” Bennett said. “This designation serves as a way to honor both the life and sacrifices made by Sergeant Nichols and his family.”

Sergeant Nichols is survived by his wife, Lexi; his four children, Brhyleigh, Kenneth III, Braden and Pailynn; his father, Kenneth R. Nichols; and two sisters, Lisa and Cindy. Sgt. Nichols was a 2000 graduate of Georgetown-Ridge High School.

Sergeant Nichols was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Carson, Colorado and was serving in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

House Joint Resolution 99 was approved by the Senate on Jan. 13 with a 48-0 vote. A highway dedication ceremony will be announced in the coming weeks. The legislation was sponsored in the Illinois House by State Rep. Chad Hays (R-Catlin).

Taylorville schools, students suffering from unfair school spending

manar lgdfTAYLORVILLE – Illinois’ outdated, unfair system of school funding is forcing Taylorville public schools to consider laying off teachers and staff, consolidate schools and eliminate athletic programs. Taylorville Community Unit School District 3 is faced with the challenge of cutting $680,000 from its budget under a state system that defunds downstate school districts.

State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), Representative Sue Scherer (D-Decatur) and Taylorville CUSD 3 Superintendent Gregg Fuerstenau spoke out for the need at a press conference at North Elementary School on Tuesday.

“The state is failing Taylorville. The school board and the district are doing everything they can to make due with less and have been taking extremely difficult financial decisions for years. Regardless of these savings the schools are being strangled by a funding system that has no connection to the realities of teaching students,” Manar said.

“We have great teachers and staff and provide our students with the best resources that we can afford. But we can only do so much under Illinois' unfair school funding structure. Our students are in desperate need of a balanced funding structure that treats down state students fairly. A student’s zip code should not matter,” Fuerstenau said.

“As a public school teacher for more than 30 years, I know firsthand how students are harmed by inadequate funding and resources," Scherer said.

"It’s a struggle for any teacher to give individualized attention to his or her students and meet each child’s unique needs. Research shows that large class size is the number one detriment to teaching and learning, and to backslide into large class sizes would only short students of many opportunities for growth. It is unconscionable for the state to do anything other than fairly and equally fund all schools, no matter where the students come from,” Scherer said.

The Illinois State Board of Education has recognized the district for its sound finances.

Taylorville teachers already take home smaller paychecks than the statewide average and the district’s administrative costs are within the lowest 10 percent of unit districts in the state.

To educate students, the school district can only afford to spend $7,163 dollars per student, well below the state average of $12,521. Students and teachers must also cope with above average class sizes.

The state has made minor improvements to increase funding to districts like Taylorville. This year’s state school budget set aside extra money for financially distressed school districts. Under this increase Taylorville schools receive an additional $53,000.

Despite increased funding and cost-cutting measures, the district is still facing the difficult decision to cut another $680,000.

Manar is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1, a complete overhaul of the state’s school funding system that prioritizes funding for school districts like Taylorville based on the needs of their students. Under the reform plan, Taylorville public schools could see an additional $1.07 million in annual state aid.

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