Saturday, September 25, 2021

Talks break down; IL school funding imperiled


We previously reported that although Illinois lawmakers passed a state budget by overriding Gov Bruce Rauner’s veto, funding for schools depends on a new formula, known as an “evidence-based model,” which has not yet been enacted into law. The first payment to school districts is due on August 10, and it is in jeopardy if the measure doesn’t become law.

Illinois State Capitol, Springfield (Jeremy Wilburn / Flickr CC)

WBEZ (NPR in Chicago) reports that SB 1, which is the evidence-based model school funding bill that seeks to equalize school funding by sending money to the state’s neediest districts and lifting some of the burden school district funding now has on local property taxes, is facing a veto by the governor as soon as it hits his desk.

Lawmakers from both parties met over the weekend and again on Monday to try to work out a compromise that either Mr Rauner would sign or enough lawmakers would vote for in order to override a gubernatorial veto. But alas, closed-door talks failed to produce a compromise, so facing deadlines, the General Assembly sent SB 1 to the governor’s desk anyway. He is almost certainly going to veto the bill.

That would set up a showdown over the legislation in an attempt to override his veto, and right now, Illinois lawmakers don’t think they have enough votes. If the legislation dies, schools won’t get paid. (Period.)

Most school districts say they’ll be able to open their doors in a few weeks, even if they don’t receive the scheduled payments from the state, relying mainly on local property tax revenues and cash reserves. Superintendent Jennifer Garrison, of Sandoval, said she’s reassessing the situation on a weekly basis. She has frozen spending in the district “to essentials only,” WBEZ reported, like power and water.

Even if SB 1 is made into law, though, either because the governor signs it or the General Assembly overrides his veto, it makes no provision to replenish any reserve cash districts may have used over the past two years, when the state had no budget in place, to make ends meet.

Furthermore, although the bill maintains funding for each district at a level that at least equals the district’s funding in the prior year and does make a dent in increasing the equity between property-rich suburban districts and those, mainly downstate, in rural areas that have a very low per-pupil funding level in comparison, it still includes state support for funding teachers’ pensions in the Chicago Public Schools. This provision amounts to the governor’s chief objection to the legislation, as he has called it a “bailout.”

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

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