CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois Republicans insisted they’re throwing the Chicago Public Schools a “lifeline” with legislation that would allow a state takeover of the schools, and allow the district to seek bankruptcy protection to restructure its massive debt.
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) first told reporters what their legislation is not. Radogno said it’s not a bailout, and not forced bankruptcy.
“We’re filing legislation that paves the way for a state-created independent authority to assume control of the Chicago Public Schools system. We didn’t come to this lightly, but the track record of Chicago and its public school system is abysmal,” she said.
Radogno and Durkin said the proposed legislation would allow the Illinois State Board of Education – appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner – to remove the Chicago Board of Education, and create an independent authority to run CPS until the state board determines the district is no longer in financial difficulty. At that point, they said, control of CPS would be transferred to an elected school board.
Ramping up an increasingly heated war of words with Mayor Rahm Emanuel on how to keep CPS afloat amid massive budget and pension deficits, Rauner said a state takeover of the district would allow the Illinois State Board of Education to take on the Chicago Teachers Union, saying Emanuel has failed to fix CPS finances in nearly five years in office, and is ready to “cave in to the teachers union.”
“We need to take action. The mayor has failed on this. He’s failed on public safety, he’s failed on schools, he’s failed on jobs in the neighborhoods, he’s failed on taxes, he’s failed on reforms, and I’m tired of it,” Rauner said. “I believe, if we get involved, we can take on the teachers’ union in Chicago. The mayor is afraid of them. He’s not taking them on. He caved in the teachers strike four and a half years ago, and he’s sending the message right now, he’s going to give them what they want, and then say, state pay for it. We are not going to let that happen.”
The governor said allowing CPS to be bankruptcy would be “good management,” and if handled properly, a bankruptcy proceeding not only could prevent teacher layoffs, but allow CPS to hire more teachers.
As for a potential state takeover of CPS, the governor said the state has assumed management of seven school districts in the past, under legislation that allows the Illinois State Board of Education to appoint a “financial oversight panel” to supervise any school district in the state, except Chicago.
“It’s interesting, not surprising, when that law was passed originally, Chicago was excluded. Chicago always seems to be treated differently and separately from the rest of the state,” he said.
Emanuel was in Washington, D.C., for the winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, but blasted the GOP plan through his spokeswoman, Kelley Quinn.
“Giving control of our children’s future to a governor who can’t pass his own budget, who is racking up billions in unpaid bills, and who is crippling higher education across the state makes zero sense,” Quinn said in a statement issued after the news conference. “With just a few weeks to go before delivering a second budget address without having passed his first budget, it’s clear the Republicans in Springfield are trying desperately to distract from their own failures.”
Republicans emphasized their plan would not provide any additional state funding to help CPS eliminate a $480 million budget shortfall, or its massive pension debt. They said it would only allow the district to restructure its existing debt by seeking bankruptcy protection, and give the state the option of assuming control of the district.
“This is not a bailout. This is not a state bailout of CPS. Taxpayers statewide should not and will not be held responsible for the historically bad decisions made by Chicago politicians,” Durkin said.