Duncan calls on state to release funds for schools

Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan and board president Rufus Williams were joined by educators from across Illinois Wednesday in calling on state legislators to release money allocated for public schools throughout the state.

While the 2008 CPS budget of $1.48 billion has been approved, the state legislature must pass the budget implementation bill before schools receive the money.

The delay has some school districts worried that they may have to borrow to meet their payroll.

"Politics in Springfield are dysfunctional," said Duncan, who called the press conference to demand that Governor Rod Blagojevich and the general assembly "make good on their promise to the kids."

The new budget includes a $400 per student increase in state aid, up to $5,734 per student. Duncan characterized the increase as little more than a "band-aid" that might not ever reach students anyway.

"Public schools are being held hostage to politics in Springfield," complained Brian Ali, superintendent of the Kankakee district and president of the Large Unit District Association, which is comprised of 53 of the state's largest school districts.

While the city of Chicago looked for ways to alleviate the $217 million debt in its 2008 budget, legislators in Springfield delayed passing property-assessment caps. As a result, property tax bills scheduled to be mailed in August won't go out until December.

Because the majority of public school funding comes from property taxes, homeowners will not be the only ones suffering from "dysfunction and property tax confusion," said Duncan. Delays in tax collection could result in $10 million in lost interest, he said, money that could have been spent in the classrooms.

Some suburban and downstate districts will not be able to make their December 1st payrolls if action is not taken, officials said. Many of the superintendents are afraid that they will have to turn to local taxpayers for more money.

"Usually the budget is held up by lack of consensus [in the state government]," said Mike Jacoby of the Illinois Education Roundtable. But the legislation has been passed, and "it's time to enact that amount."