Sometimes being a resident of Illinois is like living a bad dream.
In just the past couple years, we’ve been the state without a budget. We’ve been the state that has citizens fleeing at record rates. We’ve been the state with a backward school funding formula.
The state seemed to have taken a couple steps forward recently, belatedly adopting a budget. And, after a long and arduous process, a new funding formula for public schools was adopted. The new formula would direct additional monies to the poorest, neediest school districts.
Things were looking up — until Jan. 8.
That’s when Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto for the school funding formula. Rauner’s objection? The funding plan failed to address an issue he has pushed, making donations to private schools tax deductible.
The veto is exasperating for a number of reasons.
Currently, school districts are still being funded at last year’s level. Schools positively affected by the recently passed law weren’t expected to receive additional monies until March. With the bill in limbo, school districts are now uncertain when funds will be disbursed.
“Not a single penny of the new money has been spent on school districts to date,” Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill who sponsored the funding changes, told the Chicago Tribune. “Because of this veto, they are going to continue to wait for the very thing Bruce Rauner is taking credit for on television — equitable school funding.”
In the meantime, the administration says criticism of the veto is unwarranted because schools weren’t going to receive additional funding for several months.
While school budgets aren’t passed until late summer or fall, decisions to RIF teachers (teachers are laid off, but can be rehired for the coming term if funding is sufficient) are made in March. Rauner’s veto throws an unnecessary wrench into the budgeting process.
And, the timing of the veto is curious.
The bill was passed this fall. Rauner had 60 days to act on the bill. He waited until deadline to issue the veto. Why? Nothing changed in the interim. The language he desired in the bill wasn’t there in November. Why wait?
What’s more, Rauner’s veto is holding up funding to hundreds of public schools for the sake of about three dozen private schools.
Private schools are an important part of the educational process in Illinois. About 280,000 students attend 1,694 private schools in Illinois. That’s 280,000 students being educated without the expenditure of state funds — that represents a substantial savings to Illinois taxpayers.
But, Rauner is going to bat for 36 of those schools. The language he seeks in the bill will allow individuals and corporations to give money for scholarships to these schools in exchange for a tax credit worth 75 percent of the donation.
Reasonable people can argue the merits of that plan. On the other hand, it seems unreasonable to hold up funding for many of the 2.1 million students who attend Illinois’ public schools.
The governor and General Assembly are bound by the Constitution to fund the state’s public schools. Action taken to benefit private schools is discretionary and certainly shouldn’t stand in the way of public school students receiving a quality education.
It seems obvious that the state fulfill its obligations first.
Making sure that each and every student in a previously underfunded school receives a quality education is a more pressing issue than someone receiving a tax deduction. The tax deduction can be addressed at a later date.