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Rahm Hails School Funding Deal As A 'Fair Shake' For Chicago Students

By Heather Cherone | August 24, 2017 7:14pm | Updated on August 24, 2017 8:05pm
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel said a deal to fund Illinois schools is a
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said a deal to fund Illinois schools is a "significant step forward for Chicago schools."
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CITY HALL — Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday evening that a bipartisan agreement reached by state lawmakers to fund Illinois' schools would give the Chicago Public Schools everything — "and more" — it was set to get under a measure vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner as a bailout of Chicago's mismanaged schools.

While Emanuel declined to discuss the agreement in detail before it is unveiled by state lawmakers Monday, the mayor made it clear that Chicago schools will have in hand approximately $300 million in additional state funds the district's budget counted on to make ends meet for the school year set to start Sept. 5.

Chicago students will no longer be treated as "second-class citizens," Emanuel said. "That clear benchmark has been met."

However, Emanuel declined to say what more Chicago students would be getting as part of the deal, which is expected to be approved Monday.

"The deal is never done until it is done," Emanuel said.

Emanuel appeared to acknowledge that the deal could mean Chicago property tax owners will face another property tax hike to help fund Chicago schools, but after the news conference his spokesmen said the mayor was only acknowledging that taxpayers have been hit hard in the past by tax hikes.

The deal will ensure that Chicago taxpayers get a "fair shake for the first time from Springfield," Emanuel said.

Rauner lauded the agreement in a statement, calling it historic and adding that he "looks forward to the coming days when the legislation is passed by both chambers."

Emanuel, who had to stop himself several times from revealing the specific details of the agreement, said the new funds would "stabilize" CPS, with state lawmakers agreeing to pay a portion of the pensions for Chicago teachers, which are now the sole responsibility of CPS. That is not the case in any other school district in the state, the mayor said.

"This is a significant step forward toward reversing decades and inequity," Emanuel said at a hastily called news conference in his office on the fifth floor of City Hall.

"This is a turning point, an inflection point," Emanuel said. "Chicago students will be treated like all other students."

CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said she was relieved by the agreement.

"The cloud of uncertainty is no longer hovering over the first day of school," Jackson said.

Once state lawmakers act, Emanuel said he would detail how he thinks Chicago officials should spend the $269 million for Chicago schools.

"When it is done, we will do what we have to do," Emanuel said.

The new deal was hammered out after it became clear that there was not 71 votes in the Illinois House to override the Republican governor's veto of the original funding bill.

The agreement in principle includes a measure backed by Roman Catholic Archbishop Blase Cupich designed to help families pay for private school tuition by offering a $75 million tuition tax credit program that would offer families scholarships to send their children to private or parochial schools — or to pay the cost to send their sons or daughters to a public school outside their home school district, officials said.

It was unclear whether the measure would offer a full tax credit for the entire cost of tuition.

In an email to Emanuel, Cupich said he was convinced such a program "would be an enormous boost to the Chicago schools and the thousands of parents who use our schools.”

Enrollment at Chicago's Catholic schools has been dropping for several years, leading to closures of several schools — including St. Benedict High School in North Center — and the merger of four Far Northwest Side Catholic schools into Pope Francis Global Academy.

The voucher-like proposal has been roundly condemned by parent-led group Raise Your Hand and the Chicago Teachers Union as "a double whammy aimed at the heart of public education."

The City Council's 11-member Latino Caucus said vouchers or tax credits would accelerate the number of of students leaving the district.

“Chicago Public Schools could not recover from a voucher program that would siphon at least $100 million out of a system that seems to be constantly struggling,” said caucus chairman Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th.)

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