SPRINGFIELD—Local school council advocates are lining up legislative sponsors to boost the state Chapter 1 money under LSC control by $16 million, which they say would bring an additional $15,000 to $40,000 to most schools and as much as $100,000 to the city’s largest.
Meanwhile, legislators expect a bid by Paul Vallas, the school system’s chief executive officer, to get more control over the hiring and firing of principals, which LSC advocates say they will fight.
In addition to boosting Chicago’s state Chapter 1 funding by $16 million, legislation drafted by the reform organization Designs for Change also would require the total, beginning in 2000- 2001, to rise in tandem with any increases in its general state aid.
Chicago’s Chapter 1 funds, which are distributed on the basis of the number of low-income children a school enrolls, have been frozen at $261 million since 1995 even though the number of low-income students in the system has grown by 27,500. The funds constitute the major discretionary money available to principals and LSCs.
Bernard Lacour, policy director for Designs, and James Hammonds, acting executive director of the Chicago Association of Local School Councils, say they also want a statutory mandate for better accountability to prevent the kind of charges that last year saw a special House committee investigate the Clemente High School LSC and its use of Chapter 1 and this year saw creation of a special House subcommittee to investigate Chapter 1 spending statewide.
Lacour says they want the Illinois State Board of Education to write the rules and regulations for the spending and to audit more schools—currently 15 percent of the city’s schools are audited for Chapter 1 spending each year. They also propose a requirement that LSCs hold public hearings to explain the connection between their Chapter 1 spending plans and the school improvement plans.
Rep. Edgar Lopez (D-Chicago), who chaired last year’s special Clemente committee, also says he is working on state Chapter 1 legislation. Lopez has risen in the ranks, though, to become an assistant House majority leader and, as such, is no longer a committee chair. Hence the creation of the new Chapter 1 subcommittee, according to Rep. Julie Curry (D-Decatur), who will serve as chair; she says she is counting on Lopez to be a member. Curry adds that the committee probably will do its investigation this year and save its legislation for next year.
“As a downstater, I can act impartially,” Curry says, acknowledging, “I’m educating myself as we go. Certainly the LSCs say they are doing fine and they want to keep things the way they are, but there are enough legislators with different opinions that things should not just remain status quo. We need to require annual audits because the Legislative Audit Commission told me that there’s no accounting for how Chapter 1 funds are spent. Who’s abusing the spending? Who’s not? We need to set parameters.”
Hammonds says that if the committee holds hearings around the state and doesn’t “just lambaste Chicago schools,” it may produce ideas that can benefit all students. “But if their goal is to dig up deficiencies, they won’t be much help,” he says.
The perspectives of Sen. Arthur L. Berman (D-Chicago), minority spokesman on the Senate Education Committee, and Sen. Patrick O’Malley (R-Palos Park), the committee’s vice chairman, indicate how the Chapter 1 spending issue is likely to play with their Chicago Democrat and suburban Republican counterparts.
Berman observes: “Over the last 10 years, only a dozen of the over 500 LSCs have been charged—not found guilty, just charged—with improprieties. I wish all elected officials could have that same batting average.”
O’Malley’s view: “I’m not fully informed yet, but the thing I’d like to know is whether the Clemente situation is the tip of the iceberg or the only rotten apple in the barrel.”
While Vallas and the School Reform Board have not floated any legislation on principals, O’Malley says he has talked with the CEO about it. “There’s no question there’s widespread support, editorially, for Vallas to have more power over principals, and that issue clearly has public support,” he says. “Just the fact that Vallas has raised the issue has put principals in the position of having to police their own. It’s the rotten-apple concept all over again.
“Vallas has assured me he would use any authority carefully, that he’s not out to fire all principals, and that he wants to give due process and fair treatment. Under the current system, things are stacked against him.”
O’Malley says the issue likely will arise as part of “a larger package of legislation Chicago schools might want.”
Hammonds says that his association’s No. 2 priority is blocking any change in LSC authority over principals.
On a financial issue, the Reform Board finally will join its suburban counterparts to push for an end to the so-called “double whammy” that now costs a full half of Illinois’ 900 school districts money on two counts, according to board lobbyist Rich Guidice.
The double whammy comes from this decade’s suburban-sought property tax caps, which took effect in the collar counties in the early 1990s, Cook County in the mid-1990s and downstate, if referendums pass, in 1999. One whammy comes directly from the caps, which in effect prevent a school district from generating all the revenue possible from its tax base. The other whammy comes indirectly from the state, which calculates state aid as if the district were generating all the revenue possible from its base.
This year, Gov. George Ryan’s state budget provides for $25 million in reimbursement grants to districts hit by the double whammy. Many legislators and lobbyists are hopeful that, with Chicago’s entry into the fray, the hardship can be eliminated altogether. “There’s a decent chance we can now solve the problem of the double whammy forever,” says House Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-Chicago).