What gives? Is Chicago not far off from Detroit's pension woes?

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Last week we were stunned to learn that Chicago had just laid off another 1,000 teachers, in addition to the 420 teachers it laid off when the district closed 50 schools. Even for a district as large as Chicago that is a serious, serious cut: almost 7 percent of its teachers.

How come? Pension obligations, plain and simple, says the district.

There are two teacher pension systems in Illinois: there's the one that is referred to as "downstate" (for every district BUT Chicago) and the one that is "upstate," (Chicago's). Illinois has a law unique to the upstate pension plan which requires the Chicago Board of Ed to make up any shortfalls in pension funds when they drop below 90 percent of those needed to meet obligations. As the table below indicates, 2014 is when the walls come crashing down, with the district having to triple its contributions:

Contributions by Chicago BOE to the teacher pension fund required under Public Act 96-0889

The city had two choices to raise the $600 million it needs to meet pension obligations: raise taxes (which the state has already done) or cut public services, including releasing public school employees.

What's so appalling here is that what's good for the Chicago goose apparently isn't good for the downstate gander. Downstate Illinois districts are more than $43 billion in the hole (and counting) in the other pension plan, but that plan has not subjected itself to an obligation similar to Chicago's and is not required by law to do so.