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Chicago mayor asks statehouse leaders for more funding for schools, transit, Bears

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(The Center Square) – From more state taxpayer funds for Chicago Public Schools to what kinds of deal can be made for the Chicago Bears, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson laid out his priorities Wednesday to legislative leaders.

Johnson visited Springfield Wednesday. He met with various legislative leaders and the governor’s office. Asked about the idea of increasing state taxpayer funds for Chicago Public Schools with declining enrollment, Johnson said for there to be transformational change, it costs money.

“Actually enrollment continues to increase,” Johnson said. “We’ve actually seen our system stabilize and there’s no disagreement that the city of Chicago, through the good work of state Rep. Will Davis, has shifted this funding formula to respond equitably to what the city of Chicago deserves as a result of that piece of legislation.”

In 2017, legislators agreed with then Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on a new funding formula to add $350 million in new taxpayer money for K-12 education every year. But the formula says CPS is still another $1 billion short of “adequacy,” Johnson said.

“If you want transformation in the state of Illinois you have to pay for it. It’s just that simple,” said Johnson. “As far as the specifics of how we generate revenue to ensure that, that’s an ongoing conversation. There are a plethora of ideas of how to generate revenue but we have to get it right if we’re really committed to building a public accommodation system we can all be proud of.”

The average cost per student in Illinois for fiscal year 2022 was around $17,952. The average cost per pupil in Chicago is nearly $24,132. Enrollment declined from 327,214 students in 2018 to 319,769 in 2023.

The first term mayor is also an advocate for a new proposed lakefront domed stadium for the Chicago Bears, something that could have a taxpayer cost associated with it.

“Everyone knows that we have a structural dynamic that is problematic,” said Johnson. “You have a 100-year old building that has millions of dollars in debt. So you have this asset that’s not getting the full benefit for the people of Illinois.”

The Bears’ proposal is expected to cost more than $4 billion and tap into hotel-motel taxes and bonding through a state financing authority backed by taxpayers.

For state funding for Chicago and suburban transit operations, Johnson said there has to be good transportation for the entire state and Chicago is an economic hub for Illinois.

“We have fiscal cliffs … the bottom line is that the people of that state, particularly Chicago, need a system that’s reliable, affordable and accessible,” said Johnson. “I’m working hard to make sure our transportation system in Chicago increases ridership, hires more people and creates better streets for buses.”

On the migrant crisis, Johnson said there’s continued work to be done.

“When I was sworn in a year ago there were people living on floors in police stations, airports … we’ve cleared that up,” Johnson said. “We’ve saved the taxpayers over $200 million and we’re going to build an operation that’s centered around people’s dignity despite attacks from the governor of Texas. There’s some real specific asks around those resources to continue our collaborative work from the state, the county and the city.”

As to his takeaway of any commitments from legislative leaders, he said it’s a matter of how much and when.

Legislators continue spring session. They have until May 31 to pass a budget with simple majorities. Both chambers return Thursday.

Catrina Petersen contributed to this report.

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