Downstate school districts want same things CPS is demanding

The fight over school funding can sometimes be over-simplified as - Chicago against the rest of the state.

But in Peoria on Tuesday, urban school districts downstate want some of the same things Chicago is demanding from Springfield.

Peoria’s top school executive has a message for those who think Illinois’ perennial school funding fight always boils down to Chicago versus the rest of the state.

“What’s good for Chicago (Public Schools) is good for Peoria Public Schools,” declared Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat.

Superintendent of the Downstate system, she joined CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and top educators from 13 other districts in a letter to Gov. Rauner. It called on Rauner to “rise above political games” and to rewrite the state’s much-reviled school funding formula.

Rauner agrees the formula should be redone, but says there’s not enough time to do it before schools start to reopen in August. He wants the General Assembly to approve interim funding that would last at least until January.

Rauner objects to a proposal favored by urban superintendents. It would steer hundreds of millions of extra dollars to school districts with large percentages of students from impoverished families. About 75 per cent of Peoria’s 13,500 students are from poor families, and more than 80 percent of Chicago’s nearly 390,000 students live in poverty.

Rauner said the proposal would amount to an unfair “bailout” of Chicago Public Schools. After years of financial mismanagement, CPS could be virtually be out cash by next month. Claypool’s warned that CPS schools will not open this fall unless the state delivers its education aid check. Peoria plans to gamble and open schools on time no matter what. But if there’s no state aid by Thanksgiving, Peoria schools could run out of cash and be  forced to close their doors.

Peoria’s Desmoulin-Kherat disputed Rauner’s description of the proposal to deliver more money to schools with a high percentage of poor kids. “It’s not a bailout of Chicago,” she said. “Poor kids are poor kids are poor kids.” She said they need extra help, wherever they live.