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Illinois Republicans Propose State Takeover of Chicago Public Schools

By Daarel Burnette II 

This post first appeared on the State EdWatch blog.

The Illinois governor and two Republicans proposed Wednesday a bill that would allow for the state to take over Chicago Public Schools. The district has financially struggled for years, and a series of school closings sparked a hunger strike and caused the mayor to almost lose his job.  

Under the takeover proposal, filed by two Republicans and backed by the Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, the state would amend its rules to establish an independent authority to wrest control of the school district from the mayor-appointed superintendent and its school board members. Most notably, the bill would allow the district to declare bankruptcy and establish that the state would not be liable for the school district's debt.  

"We don't come to this position lightly," Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno said in a press release. "But the track record of Chicago and its public school system is abysmal. Despite a $600 million financial advantage provided by the state, Chicago continues to dig their financial hole deeper. It is constant crisis. The result always ends up a plea for more state money for Chicago at the expense of school districts in our suburban and downstate communities. It has to end. Taxpayers and schoolchildren deserve better. This is a lifeline."  

The proposal drew harsh criticism from the city's powerful teacher's union. 

"Since the governor was elected, government in Illinois has ground to a halt, and this proposal is just the latest example of the 'bull in a china shop' methods in which he clumsily attempts to lead," the union said in a statement. "A call for Springfield to assume responsibility of the finances of Chicago Public Schools is a nonstarter when state government has so far been unable to assume responsibility for its own budget." 

Chicago schools district's credit rating was downgraded to junk status last year after a court rejected a state plan to reduce pension costs. City administrators estimate the district's debt to stand at around $1 billion and they have fought with teachers over wages and layoffs

"The mayoral-appointed school board in Chicago Public Schools has a history of unsustainable spending and borrowing," said Lennie Jarratt, a spokeswoman with The Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based free-market think tank. "CPS has only two viable short-term options ... a state bailout or bankruptcy. Bankruptcy coupled with state fiscal oversight is the better of two bad options for the taxpayers of Illinois. Taxpayers do not deserve to be saddled with the financial mismanagement from the City of Chicago and its schools."

In the last decade, more and more states have proposed taking over academically and financially struggling urban school districts.  The process has been criticized as ineffective and undemocratic

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