News Local/State

School Funding, Cartoon — No Laughing Matter

Members of Illinois House of Representatives stand in support of Rep. Jaime Andrade's denunciation of a political cartoon using racial stereotypes to make a point about school funding.

Members of Illinois House of Representatives stand in support of Rep. Jaime Andrade's denunciation of a political cartoon using racial stereotypes to make a point about school funding. Dusty Rhodes/NPR Illinois

School funding stalled a while longer yesterday as Illinois lawmakers instead cast symbolic votes. Democrats took the changes Gov. Bruce Rauner made to their evidence-based model, turned it into a replica bill, then ran it for a vote. It was an exercise designed to prove that Rauner couldn't get enough support to uphold his plan.

Republicans, however, cut the game short by abruptly ending the floor debate. Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood), who sponsored the Democrats' plan, chided them for it.

"Presumably you support the governor's amendatory veto. And this was an opportunity for you to tell us why you support it, if it's that important to you, and you chose not to," he said.

The governor’s plan received zero votes. Democrats voted against it; Republicans voted present.​

The Chicago Public School system has long been at the center of this debate. Rauner and other Republicans have repeatedly described Democrat-sponsored Senate Bill 1 as a “Chicago bailout,” because it would allow CPS to keep a $250 million block grant its had since 1995, and would have the state take on CPS teacher pension payments. Democrats argue that school funding reform is prefaced on the concept that all districts get to keep their current level of state funding, and that the state already pays teacher pension costs for every district except Chicago.

Speaking at the State Fair yesterday, Rauner said all his amendatory veto did was “just take out the special deal for Chicago. That’s all I did.”

But despite this partisan controversy, the entire House of Representatives stood in unison yesterday  to show they didn't like the way CPS was depicted in a political cartoon. Published by the conservative Illinois Policy Institute, this cartoon showed a black child holds a sign begging for school funding. A man feigns poverty, tossing pennies to the kid and displaying one empty pocket, despite having wads of cash stashed in another.

In an emotional speech, Rep. Jaime Andrade (D-Chicago) asked colleagues to join him in denouncing the racial stereotypes perpetrated in the cartoon.

"I ask my Republican colleagues over there that … I know that you believe that this is unacceptable,” he said. “This is unacceptable that the Illinois Policy Institute would say white people are bailing out black kids!"

Representatives from both parties rose to their feet, and some called for the Policy Institute to issue a public apology. Hours later, IPI CEO John Tillman issued a statement saying the cartoon was not racist, but was removed from their website because it was a distraction (full statement below).

In the cartoon, the wads of cash in the man’s pocket were labeled TIF. It was meant to illustrate one of Rauner’s changes to SB1, based on his assertion that Chicago is hiding property wealth in Tax Increment Financing Districts, thereby forcing the state to pay for schools. But contrary to Rauner’s claim at the state fair — that all he did was “just take out the special deal for Chicago” — changes he proposed regarding TIFs and another tax cap called PTELL would hurt hundreds of districts statewide.

Schools were supposed to get their first dose of state money Aug. 10th and their second dose Aug. 20th. That cannot happen until this issue is settled. Legislative leaders plan to meet Friday to try to negotiate a compromise, and are expected to vote on the real legislation on Aug. 23.

Full statement from Illinois Policy Institute

“The Illinois Policy Institute recently published a cartoon to address the sad reality that TIF districts rob Illinois children – including children of color – of the funds necessary for their education. The price our children pay for this misgovernance is steep.

“Some lawmakers are denouncing our cartoon. We respect these lawmakers, both as representatives of their constituencies and as bearers of their own experiences and perceptions, and we acknowledge their critique.

“But our cartoon told the truth: TIFs take away money from all students, and disproportionately harm students of color. We stand by that fact. And we have long fought to help all students get access to better educational opportunities. TIF prevents that.

“We have taken down the cartoon, not because we think it is racist, but because it is a distraction from another truth – the failure of political leaders to address the root cause of our struggling education system. We stand ready to work with all elected officials and advocates who would like to see TIF money properly refocused on students across the state.

“Finally, what we find sad, and frankly offensive, is that in a world where so much real, harmful racism exists, political leaders are using the false charge of racism in an attempt to smear policy opponents and distract the people of Illinois from politicians’ failures.

“This is a distraction from the most important task at hand in the Statehouse: Ensuring equitable education funding for all Illinois students.”