SPRINGFIELD - State Rep. Sandy Pihos is proposing doing away with a unique arrangement under which Chicago Public Schools received $235 million more in state grant money in a single school year than it would have if it were held to the same standard as every other district in the state.
The Glen Ellyn Republican said it's unfair that Chicago automatically gets a percentage of all state education dollars to spend at its own discretion on transportation, special education, and nutrition while Illinois' other 859 districts submit expense claims and are reimbursed based on the number of students they serve. She filed a bill late last week that would require Chicago to adhere to the same rules.
"Block grants" were established for Chicago schools under a broader 1996 law meant to help the city's schools improve. Chicago officials successfully argued that the district was so big that the administrative burden and paperwork associated with submitting expense claims would be excessive. So instead, CPS has gotten an overall percentage of available state aid based on its size and the needs of its students and can spend the money as it sees fit.
Lawmakers and state education officials were unaware of how much more CPS was getting because the district did not submit a report to the state Board of Education until last month, after a 2011 law required it to report annually on how it spends its state grant money.
The preliminary report for the 2011-2012 school year, which was obtained by The Associated Press, shows that CPS received $607 million in state money. But state board calculations, based on the number of students using those programs and the state's per-pupil reimbursement rate, show the district would have only received $372 million for that school year if its grants were calculated as they are for other districts. Not only has enrollment declined since 1995, but the needs of students within the district have also changed dramatically during that time.