Chicago’s Schools Finally Get Fair Funding
Regarding Allysia Finley’s “Republicans Won’t Let Chicago’s School Crisis Go to Waste” (Aug. 26): The notion that the recent bipartisan, evidence-based agreement to rewrite Illinois’s education funding formula is a bailout to Chicago is misguided, ill-informed and oblivious of the facts on the ground.
First, the bogus bailout claim ignores the fact that for decades Chicagoans were the only taxpayers in Illinois to be taxed twice for teachers’ pensions. We contributed to the teachers’ pension systems of school districts across the state, but the state didn’t contribute to Chicago’s teachers’ pensions—until now. Ending double taxation and creating long overdue pension parity is a matter of fundamental fairness, not a bailout.
After a lifetime of reading The Wall Street Journal, among other publications, I wrongly assumed ending double taxation would have been a no-brainer for this page. How wrong I was.
Second, Ms. Finley’s commentary obscures the fact that while Chicago Public Schools students currently comprise 20% of school enrollment in Illinois, Chicago’s students only receive 15% of the money the state spends on education. Again, I’d ask, what bailout?
Third, the piece fails to consider that Illinois had been dead last in the country in state funding for public schools and employed the nation’s most inequitable education funding formula. Legislators, educators and families across Illinois have been trying to fix this broken system for decades because it is harmful to school systems throughout the state, not just Chicago Public Schools. The financial argument made in the piece is built on empty rhetoric that doesn’t stand up to the smallest bit of scrutiny. But the argument about the academic attainment inside Chicago Public Schools is even more flawed.
The commentary cites just one National Assessment of Educational Progress metric, and does so out of context, while ignoring the most important point: Chicago Public Schools students are state and national leaders in academic progress. How well are students in Chicago Public Schools doing? Chicago’s eighth-graders are number one among large urban districts in the U.S. in math gains, while our fourth-graders are among the national leaders in reading gains.
The number one and number two best public high schools in the nation are here in Chicago, and seven of the 10 best schools in the state are Chicago Public Schools.
Chicago’s high-school graduation rate is now a record 77.5%. Since 2011, our graduation rate has grown at three times the national average. With more of our children graduating, more are set up for success later in life. Last year’s graduates earned a record $1.3 billion in college scholarships.
The future continues to look bright. A record 89% of high-school freshmen are on track to graduate, a 20% increase over only six years ago.
With these record results, we are not concerned with competition or ideological arguments. We are, however, concerned with importance of a school funding formula that finally ensures equity, parity and stability for districts across the state, including Chicago Public Schools.
Illinois’s education funding formula has adversely affected urban, suburban and rural school districts statewide for decades. A historic, bipartisan agreement to rewrite it leaves every student, family and school district in Illinois better off. Since the piece claiming to the contrary begins and ends with quotes attributed to me, I hope you will also share my words because the agreement in Illinois means that from now on no child’s education will be determined by their ZIP Code, their race or their parents’ income.
Mayor, City of Chicago
Appeared in the September 8, 2017, print edition.