IL Dems look to save budget 'gift' to Chicago public schools

While the Illinois legislature has passed a budget over Governor Bruce Rauner's veto, a huge fight is brewing over school funding.

The budget changed the formula by which the state gives out grants to school districts.  Democrats made sure that the Chicago public schools, reeling from mismanagement and corruption, got a sizable chunk of cash to bail them out.  That cash is contained in a school funding bill that is awaiting approval by the legislature.

A $215-million payment to shore up the CPS pension system and another $200-million block grant earmarked for city schools will starve rural and suburban districts of much needed cash.  So Rauner says that no matter what kind of school funding bill reaches his desk, he will use his "amendatory veto" to carve out the Democratic gifts to the CPS.

So Democrats have held up the funding bill, putting the entire school year in the state in danger of being canceled.  Until they are assured that Rauner will allow the pork payout to CPS, they won't even bring the school funding bill to the floor.  The legislature has until August 10 to pass the bill, or Illinois public schools will not open on time.

NBC 5:

"Democrats have been holding this bill since May 31. Our families and students cannot wait any longer," Rauner said in a statement. "We must act now, which is why I'm calling lawmakers back to Springfield for a special session. Our schools must open on time."

State aid for K-12 schools is contingent on changing Illinois' funding formula to an "evidence-based model" like that of Senate Bill 1, which passed the legislature in May.

It is currently being held on a procedural motion, as Democratic lawmakers seek more time to negotiate after Rauner vowed to veto the measure, decrying it as a "bailout" for Chicago Public Schools. 

"There is a good, historic new school funding model, new school funding bill that is ready to be implemented," Rauner said Monday at a news conference with Republican leaders in the legislature and Education Secretary Beth Purvis. "It was hijacked at the last minute by the majority in Springfield and a poison pill was inserted to force payments to a pension system that's broken unsustainable and it needs reform."

At issue is the way the bill factors CPS' finances into what would become the new statewide funding formula. SB 1 eliminates the Chicago block grant, which automatically appropriates specific funding to CPS each year, but takes that $203 million into account – plus the district's $221 million in employer pension contributions – when calculating the district's baseline funding minimum.

That, plus the $505.8 million reduction in the bill's assessment of Chicago's local fundraising capabilities based on its unfunded pension liability, is what Rauner has maintained constitutes a "bailout" and has led to his insistence that reforming Chicago's teacher pensions – the only system funded by the district and not the state – is a separate issue. 

"Separately we should take up pension reform," Rauner said Monday, "but in no way should it hold up our schools opening on time."

Rauner once again said Monday that once he receives it, he would amendatory veto the bill to take out the funding considerations for CPS, at which point lawmakers would have to choose between accepting or overriding his changes.

Rauner is going to war with the most powerful political forces in the state: teacher unions and the Chicago Democratic machine.  There is a real risk that the schools will not open on time, which would wreak havoc on cities and towns across the state.  Not only will kids get behind in learning, but working parents will have to make arrangements for someone to care for their children during the day.  Many parents cannot afford to pay for this, leaving the kids in limbo.

Not only is Rauner trying to reform the way the state does business; he is trying to smash the power of entrenched interests that have brought the state to its knees.  He tried for more than two years to get his way on the budget, finally being forced to acquiesce when Republicans helped Democrats maintain business as usual and passed the Democratic budget over his veto.

Rauner's ambitious agenda has failed.  There has been no pension reform, no political reform, and the same actors who have run the state into the ground for decades maintain their power.  He will likely lose his re-election bid in November 2018 – a lesson for any Republican or Democrat who wants to change the way Springfield conducts the people's business.

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