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Rauner Amps Up Threat To Cut Chicago School Funding

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters in the rotunda at the Illinois State Capitol Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Springfield, Ill.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters in the rotunda at the Illinois State Capitol, in Springfield, Ill.

Seth Perlman/AP

Gov. Bruce Rauner said Monday he wants to redistribute $145 million currently earmarked for Chicago schools to districts across the state before school starts this fall.

To make that happen, Rauner said he intends to veto part of a school funding reform bill that passed the Illinois General Assembly in May.

“It’s a bad bill,” Rauner said Monday at a news conference in downstate Mt. Zion. “They say it’s about education funding. What they’ve inserted into it is a pension bailout for Chicago that’s going to cost hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars every year to the taxpayers of Illinois.”

Democratic lawmakers have not sent the bill to Rauner’s desk because he’s been threatening a veto for weeks. Rauner plans to issue an amendatory veto, singling out a part of the bill that includes funding for Chicago, though it was not immediately clear which part he planned to excise.

The state budget lawmakers approved over Rauner’s veto this month included a requirement to overhaul Illinois’ inequitable school funding formula. Until the state passes a new school funding formula, Illinois has no mechanism for handing out funding for the upcoming school year, leading to another political stalemate.

“Don’t threaten to hold up school’s opening,” Rauner said while directing his comments to Democratic House and Senate leaders who were not in attendance. “Don’t threaten our teachers. Don’t threaten our students with your extortion tactics that you’ve been using for years against the people of Illinois.”

Rauner has called the bill a bailout for CPS, a characterization rejected by Democrats and Chicago officials. They say the new formula, which significantly increases state funding for Chicago teacher pensions, finally puts the district on equal footing with other school districts that already get state money to pay for their teacher pensions. CPS also notes that the bill allocates 268 districts more funding per pupil than it provides to Chicago students.

Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Emily Bittner also said the governor is prohibited from issuing an amendatory veto because it would make “substantial or expansive” changes to the legislation.

Laurel Patrick, Rauner’s spokeswoman, disputed that claim and said the Illinois Constitution “clearly indicates that the governor has the power to ‘return a bill together with specific recommendations for change’’ to the legislature.”

After an amendatory veto, lawmakers would need to approve the bill again before it becomes law.

Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) sponsored the legislation that Rauner wants to veto. He has been leading the effort to devise a new way of distributing money to schools for more than four years.

“I have never walked away from a single conversation about how to improve school funding in the state,” Manar said. “If the governor has something to offer, he should put it in writing.”

Manar said the Rauner administration has not met with him or the bill’s other sponsor, Rep. Will Davis (D-Chicago), since it passed in May.

Becky Vevea covers education and Tony Arnold covers Illinois state politics for WBEZ. Follow them at @WBEZeducation and @tonyjarnold.

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