Republicans Push Back on ‘Free Lunch’ for Schools Claim

Republicans in the Illinois Senate are pushing back against the idea that Downstate and suburban schools are getting a “free lunch” from state government. Instead, they say Chicago schools benefit disproportionately from state spending on education.

House Speaker Michael Madigan has long said school districts, colleges and universities should pay for their employees’ pension costs.

MADIGAN: “Seventy-five percent of the Illinois pension problem relates to local employers not making their pension payments, where those payments are picked up by the state of Illinois. That’s a free lunch.”

RADOGNO: “Well we’re here today to acknowledge that yes, in fact there is a free lunch.”

Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.

RADOGNO: “But after digging into the system of funding, we believe that it’s Chicago that is actually receiving the free lunch.”

Radogno says looking at all state funding for education — not just teacher pensions — shows Chicago schools get a disproportionate share. For example, she pointed to a change in the way poverty is calculated that gives Chicago half of state Poverty Grant funding, even though it has only a third of the state’s impoverished students.

Republicans say they don’t want to start a regional fight over education funding — they just don’t want to see pension costs shifted to Downstate and suburban school districts.

— Brian Mackey

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