Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday launched his latest state policy public relations campaign, this time targeting a school funding reform bill approved by the Legislature in May.
Rauner appeared in Mount Zion and Rockford to again criticize Senate Bill 1, the funding reform legislation, for channeling too much money to Chicago schools at the expense of other school districts.
He also accused House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats, of trying to foment a crisis by keeping school districts waiting to see if they will have the money to open on time.
“They want to threaten to hold up school funding so schools don’t open this fall to try to force a pension bailout for the city of Chicago on the backs of Illinois taxpayers,” Rauner said during his appearance in Mount Zion. “We cannot allow that to happen. It is not fair.”
Rauner demanded that the Illinois Senate immediately send SB1 to him so that he can use his amendatory veto powers to change it so that additional money being sent to Chicago schools for its teacher pensions can be eliminated. Lawmakers approved the bill in May, but the Senate has not formally transmitted it to the governor so that he can act on it.
“Don’t threaten to hold up schools opening,” Rauner said. “Don’t threaten our teachers. Don’t threaten our students with your extortion tactics that you’ve been using for years. Start working for the people. Stop working for the Chicago machine like you’ve been doing for so long.”
Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said a decision on sending the bill to Rauner is under review.
“The Senate slowed down the process because Governor Rauner threatened a kneejerk veto,” Patterson said. “There are ongoing discussions regarding when to deliver the legislation to his desk. We remain hopeful that Governor Rauner can recognize this opportunity to honor his promise to be the education governor and overhaul the worst-in-the-nation school funding system he currently presides over.”
In the budget approved by lawmakers earlier this month, money was allocated to K-12 education and an additional $350 million was directed to schools through general state aid. However, the budget also contained the stipulation that the money had to be distributed through a revised funding formula. Until a revised formula is signed into law, none of the K-12 money will be distributed, leaving the opening of schools in jeopardy.
The state does not pay the cost of Chicago teacher pensions, unlike downstate school districts where the state does cover pension costs. The bill approved by the General Assembly provides money for Chicago teacher pensions.
Rauner, though, said the Chicago allotment is money that “could and should go to school districts around the state of Illinois” through the school aid formula. That would be done through an alternative funding reform bill pushed by Republicans that has not gotten a vote in the Legislature.
The administration is touting how much more money individual school districts would get through the Republican proposal. Springfield schools, for example, would get an extra $673,000 annually under the GOP plan, Rauner’s office said. The increased dollar amounts for non-Chicago schools were posted on a website (bit.ly/raunerSB1AV) created by the governor’s office.
Rauner singled out Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, and Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, during Monday’s news conference — pointing out that the governor’s calculations have Decatur Public Schools getting an extra $1.6 million a year under the GOP plan — and called on them to break with their respective leaders to support the Republican alternative.
Scherer was noncommittal in a statement that said it was important that schools “open without interruption.”
“I welcome Gov. Rauner’s decision to participate in the ongoing discussions on school funding reform,” she said.
Manar, a principal author of SB1, said Rauner is “more interested in spouting divisive sound bites than in solving the real problems that grip Illinois.”
“Given his repeated pledges to veto this historic and vitally important legislation, despite his reported support of 90 percent of what’s in the bill, of course we are doing everything we can to protect it from his poor judgment,” Manar said in a statement. “Gov. Rauner has never contacted me directly regarding his alleged problems with Senate Bill 1. It is clear to me today that he intends to use the children of Illinois as leverage for this political agenda.”
If Rauner does issue an amendatory veto, the issue will land back with lawmakers. They can try to override the veto, which takes a three-fifths supermajority in both the House and Senate. Or they can vote to accept the changes made by Rauner, which only requires a regular majority.
If the Legislature fails to do either, the bill will die, forcing lawmakers to come up with some alternative.
Contact Doug Finke: firstname.lastname@example.org, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.