Gov. Bruce Rauner is engaging in an “all out assault on Illinois’ commitment to public schools” with his changes to a school funding reform bill, one of the key authors of the bill, Sen. Andy Manar, said Thursday.
The Bunker Hill Democrat charged that the changes to the bill made by Republican Rauner will actually result in reduced funding for public schools over the course of a decade, and he repeated that there is no way the Democratic-controlled General Assembly will accept the changes.
“It appears to be designed over the long haul to reduce how much we spend on public education,” Manar said at a Statehouse news conference. “With this veto, the governor has taken a hard right turn away from his previous positions on this matter. The veto will saddle yet another generation of Illinois schoolchildren with the least-equitable system of public school funding in the country.”
Manar specifically cited three changes sought by Rauner that will affect school districts across the state, not just the city of Chicago, which Rauner has cited as getting an unfair advantage in Senate Bill 1. One of those changes is to a “hold harmless” provision after three years so that it is based on enrollment. The change will eventually mean less money for districts that have declining enrollments. Manar said the issue of attendance is addressed through the revised funding formula in his SB 1, but that as a starting point, no district should get less than it does now.
“The idea of school districts losing money has always been a deal-breaker,” Manar said.
Another Rauner change affects schools districts in counties with property tax limits and that have tax increment financing districts in them. Those school districts are limited in property tax collections, but there is a mechanism in place to help them deal with that. Rauner’s veto would change that.
Manar said that, overall, some of the most underfunded school districts in the state will lose money under Rauner’s changes.
“Ten years from now, we will be spending less on public schools if we were to accept the governor’s amendatory veto,” Manar said.
Moreover, he said Rauner now wants a $100 million voucher program to finance non-public schools.
“This is not about fixing Senate Bill 1, this is about doing what he wants to do, which is divest from public education,” Manar said.
After Manar’s news conference, Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs issued a joint statement saying Democrat need to negotiate an alternative if they won’t support Rauner’s changes.
“Schools and students don’t need another press conference. What they need is an assurance that their schools will open on time and that every school district in Illinois is treated fairly and equitably,” they said. “If the Democrats are unwilling to support his amendatory veto, then it is up to them to return to the negotiating table and offer a solution that bridges the gap between both plans.”
Negotiations have been occurring, both Wednesday and Thursday. Manar said the most recent talks took place by phone Thursday before his news conference.
Rauner’s office issued a statement that the current school funding formula hasn’t been changed since 2003, a period when Democrats controlled all of state government except for when Rauner was elected.
“If Democrats want to come to the table and negotiate in good faith, we are ready and waiting,” said spokeswoman Laurel Patrick. “But the state can’t wait another two months for them to act.”
Rauner has called for quick action by the General Assembly to accept his changes to the bill or to pass legislation reflecting what he wants. A failure by the House and Senate to muster a required three-fifths majority vote to override or accept Rauner’s changes would kill the measure.
The $6.7 billion in state money for schools that’s included in the $36 billion fiscal 2018 budget passed last month for K-12 education can’t be distributed until a new school funding formula is in place. So far, no school district has said it won’t be able to open if state assistance is delayed, but it is unclear how long many districts will be able to remain open without state money.
The first state aid payments to schools are due Aug. 10.
— Contact Doug Finke: email@example.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.