News Local/State

Agreement On School Funding Fizzles

Jason Barickman

Republican State Senator Jason Barickman of Bloomington Sean Powers/Illinois Public Media

School funding has been one of the most hotly debated issues in the statehouse, but in recent days, there’s been a glimmer of hope. A Democrat filed new funding plan, and a key Republican in the Illinois Senate appeared to endorse it, issuing a statement saying that he was “cautiously optimistic.”

Was this the beginning of a bipartisan solution? We decided to do a reality check.

The two Senators have been negotiating school funding for more than a year. Sen. Jason Barickman, the Republican, once told me that he and Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) could probably resolve their remaining differences over a burger and a beer. So last week, when Manar filed his fourth school funding plan, Barickman tweeted that he was hopeful Manar’s measure was a step toward long-awaited reform.

"Of course! I put out the statement right after he filed it as a show of good faith," he says.

One little catch: When he issued that statement, Barickman says, he hadn't taken time to actually read the proposed legislation.

"Now that I've read it, what I see is that there's a significant departure from our agreement," he says. "There's a lengthy list of things that do not reflect our agreement. Some of those are things we discussed and I thought we had an agreement on, but the amendment doesn't reflect that. Others are concepts that were never discussed that are being introduced now in this amendment.

Sometimes referred to as Senate Bill 1 — part of the package of interlocking legislative initiatives Senators were hoping might break the budget stalemate — Manar’s plan was filed as an amendment to this placeholder bill. Not that it matters. Whatever you call it, it was supposed to fix the state’s school funding formula, which has the dubious distinction of ranking 49th in the country when it comes to equity.

That fact gets unanimous agreement in the capitol, from Democrats, Republicans, and the governor too. But how do we remedy the problem? There’s very little agreement about that.

Manar has sponsored four different legislative efforts over the past few years, including this amendment to Senate Bill 1. Barickman, from Bloomington, has led school funding reform efforts on the Republican side of the aisle. And when Barickman responded to Manar’s plan with a statement touting their private negotiations, it seemed hopeful.

But after actually reading Manar’s plan, Barickman asked for lots of big changes. Manar points out that Senate Republicans have never filed a school funding reform bill, and suggests it’s time for them to do so. If they do, Manar says, “I guarantee I will have it heard in the Senate education committee.”

Click the link above to hear more of my interview with Barickman.