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I’m a Progressive Jew Who Wants to Give Chicago’s Cardinal a Shout-Out on School Funding

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Better Conversation Blase Cupich Bruce Rauner Cardinal Blase Cupich Cardinal Cupich catholic Chicago Cupich Daniel Sniderman Illinois Illinois school Illinois school funding Jewish Michael Madigan Mike Madigan Skokie TWILL

I’m a Progressive Jew Who Wants to Give Chicago’s Cardinal a Shout-Out on School Funding

I’m a Progressive Jew Who Wants to Give Chicago’s Cardinal a Shout-Out on School Funding

Between a three-year state budget battle and the long-term war for fair school funding in Illinois, times have been tough for a while for parents of school-age children in the Land of Lincoln.

As the father of a second-grader and a sixth-grader, one with special needs, our family has seen the challenges very personally.

Although we are fortunate to live in Skokie, a diverse suburb of Chicago with a strong tax base and excellent schools, our family has seen firsthand how the budget battle in Springfield caused a slowdown in insurance payments to the agency where our of our children receives therapy for autism.

The cash flow problem with the state forced the agency to merge with a much larger organization causing a significant number of their clients to leave. Though we have been fortunate to keep most of the therapists we previously worked with, we have heard of other agencies that have shut down altogether, disrupting the lives of many clients.

So in early July, while on family vacation in California, I was quite pleased to learn that enough Republicans had crossed the aisle and voted with Democrats to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto and pass a state budget.

This good news was soon followed by more good news: an agreement on school funding. Illinois had long had an unfair state funding formula that favored wealthier suburban districts over Chicago and rural districts.

Despite being a beneficiary of this inequity, as a progressive and a Jew, I knew this to be unjust. It had to change.

The funding plan passed by both houses in June seemed fair, yet Rauner once again drew a line in the sand and claimed it was a “bailout” of Chicago schools. The facts showed he was wrong about this.

Meanwhile, a new provision in the state budget deal meant that Illinois couldn’t send money to public schools until a new, evidence-based funding formula was in place.

While Skokie is well-enough funded I wasn’t worried about our schools not opening on time, many parents were worried about how the district would pay the bills over the year if the state couldn’t put a new funding formula in place.

Skokie Schools opened on August 24 with the state already behind on one payment to our district and another one coming due shortly.

Four days later, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Rauner reached a compromise to fund schools. In a classic horse trade, Madigan and the Democrats agreed to allow some funding of private schools as a nod to the right’s demands for vouchers, while Gov. Rauner and many Republicans agreed to the new funding formula.

The impasse could only be broken by a man of peace and faith

How did this happen? The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Cardinal Blase Cupich played a key role in working out the compromise between the speaker and the governor, who reportedly despise and refuse to speak with each other.

Cardinal Cupich says he spoke with Rauner, Madigan and other legislative leaders and legislators from both sides of the aisle.

Although I’m neither Catholic nor Christian, I’m always happy to see the cardinal play a positive role in Chicago and Illinois.

For many years, we were blessed to have longtime leader Cardinal Joseph Bernardin play such a positive role. He was a friend to all, particularly to the Jewish community. This was perhaps in no small part due to his close friendship with the late Rabbi Herman Schaalman, who served for many decades at my synagogue.

I was pleased to see Chicago’s current cardinal playing a similar role.

Clearly Cardinal Cupich has an agenda to see funding increase for private, parochial schools. But I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he is sincere in wanting to improve the lives of all Illinois students. I can’t help but wonder if the impasse could only be broken by the personal intervention of a man of peace and faith.

“I’ve said all along, just because someone is your opponent, doesn’t mean they’re your enemies,” Cupich told the Sun-Times. “There’s a difference between your opponent and your enemy.”

These are wise words that should be considered not just in Springfield and Chicago, but in Washington and throughout the United States.

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