School mandates and does Oak Park get too much money from the state? The senator from Maywood asking.

Returning to the October 2013 gathering of eagles, at Oak Park’s Percy Julian Middle School . . .

A CLAIM mother asked about the funding of mandates, what the state requires and the district pays for.

“It depends on how you define mandate,” said Sen. Lightford. It had become “very popular” to refer to compulsory kindergarten as unfunded, for instance, she said..

(The Oregon School Boards Association and Confederation of Oregon School Administrators had done so as recently as two and a half years earlier, favoring kindergarten but regretting it as unaffordable.)

She said she was “lukewarm” about the problem and preferred a “happy-medium” solution.

Wanting not to put the questioner “on the spot,” the Oak Park senator, our hero for this series, asked for examples of “significant” added costs of a mandate.

The questioner turned to ask the superintendent, who wasn’t there! It was an important gathering, he had said earlier, but not important enough to stick around.

Reps. Ford and Lilly had their own soothing generalities to go with Lightford’s “happy-medium” approach. And why not, in view of the disappearance of the superintendent?

Ford: “We want to meet the needs of all children. . . . We all listen . . . ”

Lilly: “We have to look at the entire picture . . . ” And nobody asked her what the hell she was talking about.

Another CLAIM questioner raised the longstanding hot-button issue of state funding of public schools in general, setting up a haves-vs.-have-nots give and take.

Sen. Lightford, representing a town and area with social and economic troubles such as Oak Park does not have and probably never will, complained about the formula for allocating that funding ($4 billion in 2013), based as it was on “40- to 50-year-old poverty figures.”

She was serious about this: Two years later she co-sponsored a bill that would considerably alter that formula, taking from the relatively rich and giving to the relatively poor districts.

“Is it fair?” she asked at the Julian meeting, that Oak Park gets as much as it does, “considering its lower-than-average poverty rate?” State aid (to Oak Park schools) “may be” less, she said. Which was all in all a sufficiently ambiguous comment for the occasion, made before launching into numbing detail about the process of deciding how funds are apportioned.

The Oak Park senator ignored her allegation of unfairness — no need to ruffle feathers — but agreed that the formula is “complicated.” He took note also of the longstanding teacher pension subsidy for non-Chicago districts — featuring highly publicized retirement bonanzas for suburban administrators — as further complicating the matter.

Which indeed it does, according to the fiscally alert Illinois Policy Institute, who said that for many years these fat pensions had had “a massive — and now dire — impact on state education finances.”

Lilly observed that she would “like to put on the table a corporate round table,” meaning God knew what. In any case, as often happened in these forums, no one asked.

— more more more to come —

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