By CARL GREEN
Springfield, IL – Governor Bruce Rauner gave his promised amendatory veto of Illinois’ new school funding plan recently, but it turned out to be a bait-and-switch attack on state support for all public education.
Rauner had talked of cutting pension and grant money for Chicago out of Senate Bill 1, but when bill sponsors saw his actual veto, it went far beyond that in shifting public school costs to taxpayers.
“What Governor Rauner outlined in his veto … would cause the state to pull back from its investment in public education at historic levels and starve public schools everywhere,” said Senator Andy Manar, (D-Bunker Hill), a longtime school funding reform advocate and chief Senate sponsor of the bill.
“This was never about a so-called ‘Chicago bailout.’ This is about Bruce Rauner seizing upon an opportunity to get what he wanted all along: divestment in public education and shifting costs onto local taxpayers.”
Manar said most of the “unwitting victims” would be school districts that already are underfunded by the state and struggling with growing numbers of impoverished students and other challenges.
The amendatory veto actually includes more than 100 changes to the original bill, including provisions that pit schools against local economic development efforts (tax increment financing districts) and penalize schools for enrollment declines.
Manar said the veto language goes against everything Rauner has led people to believe about his commitment to public education.
“Governor Rauner has suddenly taken a hard right turn and abandoned all of his own policies and achievements to betray public schools – all within a matter of weeks,” he said.
“What the governor has proposed in his veto of Senate Bill 1 does not ‘make it a better bill,’ as he continues to insist. Every lawmaker who signed on to support this veto before they saw the language was sold a bill of goods.
“We need to override this veto, and we need to do it as soon as possible, because what Gov. Rauner has proposed will devastate Illinois schools and will set us back even further than we are today.”
The fight was being waged at the last minute before the state was scheduled to begin payments to school districts and shortly before schools were to return to session. The legislature must now take up the amendatory veto. It will take a three-fifths vote to either override the veto and let SB1 become law or to approve the veto and make Rauner’s changes the law.
If neither happens, the Legislature will have to start with a new bill to release funding to schools, and many districts are warning they can’t stay open for long this fall without the state support promised by the state constitution.
“I don’t think people realize that our district, Bethalto Unit 8, could not stay open for more than one month if general state aid would stop flowing,” Superintendent Jill Griffin said at a public meeting of school officials and supporters.
Mark Skertich, superintendent of the nearby Southwestern Illinois School District, said his district would be forced to make deeper cuts without state funding soon.
“We believe all children should receive an adequate and equitable education and we expect a new funding formula that does not include winners and losers,” he said. “Senate Bill 1 is the only bill poised to become law and that advocates for all children.”