Lawmakers hear how education-funding impasse will affect schools

Illinois House members were joined by educators and advocates at a hearing Wednesday to denounce Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of an education funding overhaul and draw attention to how schools across the state are dealing with the impasse in Springfield.

A new education funding formula is needed before money can flow to more than 800 school districts in the state, but Rauner’s amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1 means the funds won’t be sent when due Thursday.

Several school leaders who testified Wednesday said they would likely have to burn reserves and potentially resort to borrowing and cuts to get through the coming school year, absent any action.

“We could argue until tomorrow about each and every one of the governor’s amendatory vetoes,” said Mike Lubelfeld, superintendent of the Deerfield Public School District.

“You have an opportunity to fund education, and you know what, you don’t have time. You’ve had years to debate this.”

Chicago Public Schools poor financial condition loomed over the proceedings, though district officials were not invited to Wednesday’s hearing.

Rauner’s proposed changes would base state support on the assessed property values of each school district, regardless of whether they could tap into the value or not.

As a result, districts that have tax increment financing districts and those under mandated property tax caps would receive less state money.

The precise impact of Rauner’s veto on individual school systems has yet to be publicly detailed. The Illinois State Board of Education on Tuesday said its initial analysis of the veto was complicated by significant errors in calculations involving TIF districts.

Under both the Democratic-passed bill and the Republican governor’s version, the amount of state money schools receive would depend in part on the assessed value of property in the district. The less available property wealth in a district, the more state money it could receive.

But unlike in the Democratic bill, Rauner’s version would count the assessed property value that includes TIF districts and in areas that have mandated property-tax caps. School districts can’t tax the growth of property value in those areas but still would receive less state money.

Rauner’s veto removes a block grant of about $200 million in state funds that Chicago’s district has received for more than 20 years for categorical programs, such as special education.

Senate President John Cullerton on Wednesday announced his chamber would go back to Springfield on Sunday afternoon “with the intention of acting on school funding legislation.”

The Senate is expected to try to override Rauner’s changes, though that effort still could lack needed Republican support in the House.

A motion to override hadn’t been filed in the Senate as of Wednesday afternoon, with Democrats saying they want to keep trying reach a compromise with Republicans. If some Republican lawmakers’ concerns could be addressed via followup legislation, some of them might join Democrats in an override attempt.

“Our caucus is determined to find a reasonable path to compromise, and there is still time for that,” said Sen. Andy Manar, the sponsor of the education funding bill. “But as the Senate president stated, and I think he is right, we are going to fix the system one way or the other.”

Manar said the purpose of the legislation has taken a back seat to the political fight, saying it’s important that both sides remember that “what we are after is equity for children in public education.”

Tribune reporter Monique Garcia contributed.

Twitter @perezjr

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