Dale Righter

Illinois State Senator | 55th District


Speaker Madigan’s “Free Lunch”

Monday, February 11, 2013

Over the last two years the topic of pensions, particularly publicly funded pensions, has generated frequent and serious debate. As often happens in Illinois, the debate has not only fallen along party lines, but regionally as well.

The latest example of this divide—and some might also add “hypocrisy”—is House Speaker Michael Madigan’s statement that, relative to his Chicago schools, downstate schools have received a “free lunch” in terms of taxpayer support. For those not familiar, Speaker Madigan has held his leadership position in the Illinois House for almost 40 years. Additionally, he is the Chairman of the state’s Democratic Party.

Fortunately, the truth can often be found in the numbers, as is the case when considering taxpayer support for Illinois’ public schools. Let’s start with the basics.

Of all students in elementary and secondary public schools across the state, Speaker Madigan’s Chicago Public Schools (CPS) enroll approximately 19% of Illinois’ public school children. If Speaker Madigan’s assertion is correct, and Chicago schools are being treated unfairly in terms of funding, common sense dictates that these schools must receive less than their 19% share of funding.

But as is too often the case with Springfield’s leaders, “common sense” and reality don’t quite match up.

So how do Speaker Madigan’s “poor” Chicago Public Schools measure up? According to the facts, far, far better than his rhetoric would lead one to believe.

For example, consider the Early Childhood Education Grant program, which allocates approximately $300 million statewide. The CPS share, with 19% of Illinois’ students, should be $57 million. However, last year’s budget directed $111 million to CPS. The cost of Speaker Madigan’s very expensive lunch is $54 million more than what CPS should equitably receive.

Additionally, the Corporate Personnel Property Replacement Tax (CPPRT) fund that allocates almost $735 million to public schools seems to run contrary to the Speaker’s claim. The CPS “fair share” of these monies would be $138 million, but last year that number was actually $198 million—so add $60 million more to the CPS tab.

As a last specific example, consider special education grants. Only 17% of CPS students are in special education programs, yet it receives an eye-popping 35% of the available funds. Charge another $241 million to the taxpayers and schools outside of Chicago.

Including most of the major funding sources for public schools in Illinois, the Speaker and his political allies in the Governor’s Office and General Assembly steered approximately $900 million in taxpayer dollars to Chicago schools that is above and beyond their equitable share.

So while there is a free lunch somewhere, Speaker Madigan’s Chicago schools are enjoying it, not paying for it.

Until the Democrat Party in the Illinois House of Representatives loses its majority status, or the members of that party in the House find the courage to replace Speaker Madigan, the yearly fleecing of downstate schools will continue—regardless of how much more money is spent on public schools.

As always, I'm interested in your thoughts on this issue, or any other. Please feel free to contact me at 1-888-235-6033 or drighter@consolidated.net.

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