SPRINGFIELD — Lawmakers and school leaders in suburban Chicago are trying to kill a school funding overhaul that could help hundreds of downstate districts.
Top Democrats met over a proposal to divert money from wealthy suburban districts to help poorer districts. The top Republican in the Illinois House said he's concerned Democrats could push the issue during January's lame-duck session.
"We're not insensitive toward the problems in other parts of the state," House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said in an interview Friday. "But there needs to be a broader discussion. People should work on it in a collaborative manner."
The measure is known as Senate Bill 16. Two Democrats who represent suburban school districts have signed on to a Republican-led resolution designed to halt the proposal until more study is completed.
State Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch, D-Hillside, issued a statement saying schools within his district would lose "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
“If this bill passes in its current form, SB 16 would devastate schools all across the 7th District and the State of Illinois,” Welch said. “Schools in my district need more funding, not less.”
In an opinion piece published in the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, Wheaton-Warrenville Superintendent Jeff Schuler called on parents to urge lawmakers to vote "no" on the proposal.
Schuler, who earns $225,000 annually, wrote, "If this bill passes in the state's House of Representatives, District 200 will have the fifth-largest reduction in state funding among the 862 school districts in Illinois and the second-largest reduction in DuPage County."
The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, would chop the amount of state aid given to wealthier districts in order to ensure students in poorer areas of the state don't receive unequal levels of education.
The measure was approved in the Senate in late May and has been the subject of talks among top Democrats in the House this summer. Those discussions have Durkin and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, concerned that Democrats could use their majorities to send the plan to Gov. Pat Quinn in January.
"We're closing in on a lame-duck session," Durkin said.
Republicans point to the raucous 2011 lame-duck session, when Democrats approved an income tax increase by relying largely on votes from lawmakers who were retiring or who had lost their seat.
One of the Democrats involved in the meetings, however, scoffed at the idea of a vote in January.
"It is nowhere near ready for prime-time," state Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, said Friday. "I do not expect it to be ready."
In an interview Friday, Manar said he wants to get a new funding framework in place before the start of the 2015-16 school year.
He said it took members of the Senate a year to meet, discuss, draft and approve the proposal.
"I think we should expect it will take the House some time," Manar said. "It continues to be a work in progress."
He said Republicans who are grousing about the effects of the plan should step forward with their own ideas.
"They don't need to wait for my permission to inform the state of what their solutions are," Manar said.