School funding politics and games in IL

Flanked by state Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady and state House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, Gov Bruce Rauner, Republican of Illinois, discussed school funding during a press conference at Chicago’s Thompson Center on Monday morning, reports Ashlee Rezin for the Chicago Sun-Times.

“We cannot allow the majority in the General Assembly to hold school opening hostage for their own political agenda,” he said. “It is wrong and unfair for them to hold this school funding bill. There is no legitimate reason for that school funding bill to be on my desk right now.”

He then went on to say he would call the General Assembly back into special session if SB 1 didn’t make it to his desk by Monday at noon. There’s a hard deadline of July 31 for lawmakers to approve funding for the schools according to a plan the governor will be able to support.

Senate Bill 1 is about deciding how to fund schools fairly. Mr Rauner believes the current system sends too much money to the Chicago Public Schools, especially to fund teachers’ pension funds, instead of sending it to schools to improve classroom instruction. Chicago Public Schools is the largest district in the state by a few-fold and arguably a struggling or failing district, and the governor has said he believes that funding pensions in Chicago has reduced funding for suburban and rural districts, especially those downstate.

“I will never allow that to happen,” he said, referring to his intention to use his amendatory veto power to remove the Chicago pension funding from the bill as it now exists. “That is using children as political pawns. … Every child from a low-income community—every child from a disadvantaged circumstance—can receive a better education, a better future,” he concluded.

In some ways, though, SB 1, which did indeed pass the Illinois General Assembly, apart from the regular state budget, didn’t make it to the governor’s desk because the General Assembly didn’t want the governor to mess with it, using a sort of line-item veto.

The amount for Chicago pensions could be anywhere from $100 million to $250 million, representing about 2 or 3 percent of the total state spending on schools.

In other words, folks, all this political drama is over a small portion of the state’s budget for the schools. We’re holding it up over a few hundred million when the schools in the state actually need several billion dollars more from the state, money they will never see. SB 1, as it now exists, would go a long way toward encouraging some of the richest districts in the state to rein in their spending while encouraging poorer districts to re-examine their financial needs.

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Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.