Munchkins get look at scary wizard, school funding apocalypse

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By late July, the signs are crystal clear throughout Munchkin Land.

Young Munchkins, raised to be perpetually happy, can’t hide their frowning faces. They sleep late into the morning and then whine about “not having time for fun stuff.”

  Tom Houlihan
 

Just one more time, they plead to their parents. One more trip to the park on their hobby horses. One more Super Gooey Frangipana Sundae from Dairy Creamery. One more hour in the Bouncy Splash Castle.

And they hide every back-to-school flyer delivered daily by the Munchkin mail carrier.

Their wise parents know it’s just a couple short weeks before the school bells ring and their beloved young ones return to the classroom. They have already started shopping for school finery — bright-colored jackets, knickers, bow ties and buckle shoes. Their children, they know, will need a new abacus and crayons and slates.

Already, some athletically-minded Munchkin kids have taken physicals for the more strenuous sports — pie-eating, energetic singing and dancing and the annual Silly Hat Olympics, the greatest competition of them all.

“You are very lucky young Munchkins,” their parents tell the little ones. “You have fine schools and excellent teachers. And we know that school will open on time.”

Being children, they say nothing to their parents about their good fortune at being able to return to the drudgery of the classroom for the next nine months. But they have seen alarming pictures of the state’s Grand Wizard and heard his threats to not pay for schools all across Oz.

They show him on his Stupendous Scary Screen — the one with the flames shooting up on both sides — wearing a scowl and a garish plaid shirt.

“If I don’t get what I want, I can shut down lots of schools,” he says with a sinister laugh.

One young Munchkin wants to know what’s going on.

“Mama,” he asks, “why is the Grand Wizard being so mean?”

She does her best to explain.

“He is a very important Big Person,” she says. “And he has a lot on his mind.”

Deep down inside, though, the Munchkin mother can’t help but think that the state’s top elected official has gone off his rocker.

                                        * * * * *

Like the Munchkins, we know that schools in the Homewood-Flossmoor area will open in a few weeks. We can be certain of that fact, in large part, because of solid fiscal management in H-F High School District 233, Homewood District 153 and Flossmoor District 161. Over the years, residents in our towns have made a strong commitment to public education, and continue to back it up with the necessary financial resources.

And yes, we are fortunate that we don’t have to worry about a crisis situation in school funding as our children return to the classroom.

As the cage match struggle continues between Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and a General Assembly dominated by Democrats, there are genuine questions about whether the state will fund schools across the state during the coming academic year.

Rauner has threatened to veto SB1, the reform plan that passed the House and Senate in May but has still not been forwarded to the governor.

The governor and his supporters say SB1 is a bailout for Chicago schools. Backers of the bill disagree, saying the legislation will hold harmless every district in the state, including the Chicago Public Schools, then provide new money through an improved system.

The new Illinois budget agreement, approved July 6 when Republicans joined Democrats to override Rauner’s veto, includes funding for schools. However it also requires the adoption of an “evidence-based” funding model that eventually reforms a system that produces inequities among the state’s school districts. That provision is included in SB1. 

By the time this edition of the Chronicle went to press the school funding impasse had not been resolved.

Again, our schools can survive the continuing funding battle between Rauner and the Democrats, at least for now. District 161 and the high school district have sufficient reserves to get through the coming year. District 153 can use the proceeds of a bond sale overwhelmingly approved by voters in March 2016.

To be sure, this is a lousy way to carry out the business end of local education. District 153 voters gave the authorization to sell up to $9 million in working cash bonds over the next seven years. Spending that money right now puts the Homewood schools — and local taxpayers — back behind the fiscal eight ball. Nobody is happy that this may happen.

Without state funding, many school districts close to our towns will soon face financial disaster. Schools that rely the most on state aid — and they are more likely to be in low-income districts or downstate — could run out of money in a few months.

I am enormously proud of the schools in Homewood and Flossmoor. I know how hard these communities have worked to produce educational systems that continue to deliver quality learning experiences. For the last three years, the Chronicle has carried story after story about young people in our communities who are well prepared to make a difference in an ever-changing world.

We have already seen the governor take this state to the brink of financial cataclysm. Now it appears that it’s the schools’ turn to get a close look at the funding apocalypse.

He may not be making threats on a Stupendous Scary Screen.

But we’re still getting the message loud and clear.

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