By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner on Wednesday signed into a law a bill that will let state money flow to schools so they can open their doors on time.
The measure, House Bill 3763, authorizes spending for general state aid, early childhood education, bilingual education and the teachers retirement system.
It also increases kindergarten through 12th-grade educational spending by $244 million and early childhood education funding by $25 million.
The decision was widely hailed as good news, but likely not the end of a larger budget and philosophical standoff in Springfield.
David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, said he thinks the governor’s signature on the bill is a sign that the Springfield gridlock is at least easing.
This could be “a sign that some of the logjams of the Statehouse are starting to break up. I don’t think (the governor) would have moved on this or would being doing this if there weren’t some understanding on some of the other things.”
Education funding “is a big item,” Yepsen said. “If nothing else, this gets things started.”
“Yes, time is running short,” he said, “but this at least might give the folks in the statehouse a psychological boost. Things take time to come together and gel. In that sense, this helps.”
With fiscal year 2016 about to begin July 1 and no budget in place, a partial government shutdown is widely anticipated.
State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, called the governor’s move “great news for at least the school districts.”
While opening the doors on time is huge priority, school districts also need to plan for the entire school year, including meeting staffing needs. Now, he said, administrators and school boards can get on with their work.
But Syverson said he doubts the stalemate between Democrats who control the Legislature and Rauner-led Republicans is about to break.
“You would hope so, but I don’t think so,” Syverson said. “I think this was one that all parties roughly agreed on the level of funding.
“Without systemic reforms in the jobs climate, I think we’ve still got problems fixing the rest of this budget,” he said.
Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said the news is a “a good sign. It shows that (Rauner) can lean into governing and prioritize the issues that matter to families across the state.”
Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, said he was happy to hear the education funding bill had been signed.
“As I’ve said all along, I think we need more compromise and less of the back and forth that’s been going on the last few weeks,” Smiddy said.
“I hope he continues to sign the appropriations bills,” Smiddy added. “Honestly, I’d like to see him sign the human services appropriations bill. There are people with tremendous needs who need our help.”
Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine, deputy GOP leader, said he thought the governor both honored his commitment to education and removed the school year from the fray, but there’s still a battle on for the direction of Illinois.
“Overall it’s a win for school kids and their parents, and I applaud the governor,” Murphy said.
The remainder of the spending plan sent to the governor should fall to the veto pen, Murphy said.
Rauner has taken on legislative Democrats, who hold supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, accusing them of wanting to do little other than feed the status quo with more tax dollars.
Longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, maintains the governor is “working in the extreme,” and only everyone working together in moderation will resolve what he calls the state’s No. 1 issue — the budget deficit.