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Short-term budget fix for Illinois close, but not schools

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks Monday to reporters about the state budget and education funding, in his office at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield.

AP

SPRINGFIELD — As lawmakers prepare to return to Springfield on Wednesday for the first time since adjourning May 31, the Democrats who control the General Assembly and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner say they’re close to a deal to keep Illinois afloat through December.

But the two sides still appear to be far apart when it comes to a funding plan for elementary and secondary education for the coming school year.

Rauner backs a GOP plan that would fully fund schools for the first time in seven years while also guaranteeing that no school district receives less state money next year than it did this year. The proposal would increase general state aid to schools by $160.1 million compared with the current year. The money would come from the federal government and state funds earmarked for education, according to the governor’s office.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats, who have spent the past several years trying to change the way the state distributes money to schools, are preparing to introduce a plan that would increase general state aid by more than $750 million.

The additional funding would be targeted toward boosting funding for districts based on need. Nearly $287 million would go to Chicago Public Schools, a 30 percent increase from the current year. Thirty-eight other districts would receive increases of the same percentage or greater.

The Democrats’ proposal also includes $75 million in additional funding for early childhood education, matching the level Rauner proposed, and $112 million to pay some of the employer’s portion of Chicago teachers’ pensions. The state already pays that cost for all other districts.

John Patterson, a spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said Cullerton’s focus has been on reaching an agreement that allows schools to open on time in the fall and remain open.

“We’re hopefully optimistic that we’re on the verge of such an agreement,” Patterson said.

If that’s the case, it wasn’t apparent from Rauner’s public comments Monday, when he held a news conference in his Capitol office with mayors from around the state.

While two sides are “pretty well there” on a stopgap compromise for other areas of state spending, Rauner said that’s not the case when it comes to education.

The governor said Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, “have basically threatened to hold up the entire … budget process for a bailout of CPS.”

“Let me be clear,” Rauner said. “That is wrong. That is unfair. That’s just not reasonable for the children around the state of Illinois, taxpayers around the state of Illinois, parents around the state of Illinois, homeowners around the state of Illinois.”

Rauner said the Chicago school system is the victim of its own financial mismanagement, and he railed against Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his refusal to pursue bankruptcy as an option for the state’s largest school district.

The state’s new fiscal year begins Friday, and lawmakers left the Capitol at the end of last month without approving a budget for next year — or coming to an agreement with Rauner on a full spending plan for the budget year that ends Thursday.

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