Illinois governor's veto could jeopardize school funding

Illinois State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, talks to the media as negotiations continue on Senate Bill 1 during a special session Monday on education funding at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

AP

SPRINGFIELD — Legislation to gauge support for Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's ideas on a school-funding plan failed without a single "yes" vote in the Illinois House on Wednesday, as Republicans decried what they called a Democratic stalling tactic.

The governor used an amendatory veto to make expansive changes to a new school-funding formula approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature. The changes have been widely criticized by Democrats and numerous school superintendents statewide.

The Senate voted on Sunday to override Rauner's veto, which was based largely on the governor's belief that the bill unfairly favored Chicago schools over school districts in the rest of the state. But the House doesn't have enough Democrats to hit the three-fifths majority needed for a veto override.

On Wednesday, Democrats introduced a new bill in the House that incorporated Rauner's changes — and it failed amid a debate full of derision for Democrats' reticent to attempt an override.

"It's rude to pull people down here with the idea that we're going to vote on an override, and you don't even have the guts to put the bill up and see where the votes fall," said Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Republican from Wheaton.

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 a House committee earlier 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.

Taylorville schools chief Greggory Fuerstenau dismissed the governor's anti-Chicago message as "pitting school district against school district."

“When I first supported Senate Bill 1, my goal was to help ensure that all students receive a quality education, no matter where they are from. Students from Southern Illinois have been given the scraps for a long time, so I stood with lawmakers around the state to stop the governor’s plan to continue with the status quo. Rather than only promising money to wealthy schools near Chicago, this legislation would bring nearly $5 million more to the schools that I represent.

“Unfortunately, some schools in our local communities are still using textbooks from the 1990s, and that is absolutely unacceptable. These conditions will not change until the school funding formula is fixed, and that’s exactly what Senate Bill 1 aims to do. While the governor’s plan is to strip what little we already have and funnel it to wealthier schools, I believe that investing in the education of our own local youth is a responsibility that we lawmakers must take seriously.

School funding remains unresolved in Illinois in part because Democrats inserted a provision in the recently approved state budget. The provision requires school funding to be distributed only through the model outlined in the original school-funding legislation, Senate Bill 1.

With that bill vetoed and an override stalled, the state has no way to distribute money to schools and missed its first payment due Aug. 10. Chicago schools don't open until after Labor Day, but many districts ran the first school bell today. No district has said it can't open, but few districts can last longer than one semester without state aid.

Earlier Wednesday, Rauner echoed his anti-Chicago theme by excoriating the "corrupt political machine in Chicago" during a political event in Springfield. Rauner blamed Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and other Chicago Democrats for blocking his changes.

Rauner said their self-interest in state government 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.

State Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said the rewrites would have affected Southern Illinois schools negatively.

“Rauner’s rewrites would punish downstate schools that are already underfunded, which would ultimately lead to many areas having no choice but to raise property taxes," Phelps said in a news release. "Senate Bill 1 is not a quick fix band-aid solution like the governor’s rewrites. Senate Bill 1 aims to fix the unfair school funding formula that has plagued Illinois for decades, and ensures that Southern Illinois’ kids will get their fair share.”

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, said the fight was about educating students statewide.

"This is not a bailout for Chicago, and it's racially and geographically divisive for the governor to suggest otherwise," Flynn Currie said. "This is about ensuring that children, wherever they live, are treated fairly and adequately by a school-aid formula."

The Southern contributed to this article.

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