Leaders, educators weigh in on school funding plan

House tests support for overriding Rauner’s veto

By John O’Connor 
AP Political Writer

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois school superintendents hostile to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s changes on a school-funding plan told lawmakers on Wednesday that the Republican’s proposal would hamstring their school districts.

The House Education Appropriations Committee is weighing legislation that incorporates the alterations Rauner made this month in an amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1. The veto essentially rewrote the legislation, which revamped Illinois’ funding formula for public schools.

Rauner has repeatedly said the original Democrat-backed bill unfairly favored Chicago public schools at the expense of the rest of the state. He echoed that theme Wednesday, by excoriating the “corrupt political machine in Chicago” during a political event in Springfield.

Rauner’s veto cut $450 million from Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, and slated the money for redistribution to other Illinois school districts. But school chiefs in some of those districts were not impressed.

“I liken it to a payday loan,” Staunton Schools Superintendent Dan Cox told the House committee Wednesday. “We get more money now — some of us — at a higher cost later. We need to stop ZIP code politics.”

Opponents of Rauner’s plan say the immediate influxes of money would be offset by long-term changes. They note districts that lose enrollment would be penalized because state money would follow students transferring to other schools.

Critics also said communities with limited property taxes, which often fund local schools, would lose state money because of how Rauner wants to tie funding to property value.

The committee is considering a new bill, Senate Bill 1947, that Democrats drafted to gauge how Republicans will vote on a potential override of Rauner’s veto. The Senate overrode the veto last weekend, but the House has 67 Democrats — four votes shy of the three-fifths majority needed to override.

School funding remains unresolved because Democrats inserted a provision in the recently approved state budget that requires school funding to be distributed only through the model outlined in Senate Bill 1. With that bill vetoed and an override stalled, the state has no way to distribute money to schools. The first payment was due Aug. 10.

Chicago schools don’t open until after Labor Day, but most other districts are gearing up or have already opened. No district has said it can’t open, but few districts can last longer than one semester without state aid.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, put Rauner’s changes to the test Wednesday by introducing Senate Bill 1947, which includes the language of the governor’s veto. Democrats planned a floor vote later in the day, but the bill is unlikely to pass — which would open the door for a House override vote, which must be done by Aug. 29.

Ahead of a campaign rally at the State Fair on Wednesday, Rauner blamed Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan — his chief rival in Springfield — and other Chicago Democrats for blocking his changes. Rauner said their self-interest has only brought Chicago high taxes, unemployment, violence and “terrible schools.”

“They don’t run the political operation to benefit the people in Chicago, and I can sure as heck tell you they don’t run the government for the benefit of the people of central Illinois, or southern Illinois or northwest Illinois or the suburbs of Chicago either,” Rauner said.

Rauner, who will seek a second term in 2018, said this week that educators and others have told him they support his school-finance veto.

But superintendents at the Capitol dismissed his anti-Chicago message as “pitting school district against school district,” in the words of Taylorville schools chief Greggory Fuerstenau.

“Senate Bill 1 is, and always has been, about kids,” added Centralia schools Superintendent Craig Clark said. “It’s about equal opportunity for every to shine. Senate Bill 1 works for Chicago, Centralia and Cairo.”

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