Curious to know what Gov. Bruce Rauner and J.B. Pritzker have to say about education funding, school choice, and an elected school board in Chicago?
One supports taxpayer-supported scholarships to private schools. The other does not. One supports an elected school board for Chicago. The other does not.
WBEZ and Chalkbeat, a national nonprofit covering education that recently opened a Chicago bureau, teamed up to go deep on education with the major party candidates for Illinois governor, Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker.
Each candidate completed a questionnaire on education. Their answers are below.
WBEZ also is interviewing each candidate on the topic beginning at 8 a.m. on Oct. 3. If you have an education question for the candidates, please submit it here for consideration.
Tell us about your own experiences with school. How do they influence your approach to education policy?
Rauner: I have been blessed with the educational opportunities I’ve been afforded. I worked my way through college and graduate school, earning top honors and creating opportunity to have a successful career. I have worked my entire life to help provide others with the same opportunities to succeed. My wife Diana and I have been passionate advocates for educational opportunity for years, and I’m so proud of her leadership at The Ounce of Prevention, a non-profit devoted to helping low-income students achieve success. We’ve been blessed in our lives and that’s why we’ve given back to fund education and support school choice.
Pritzker: When I was a child, there were teachers who went out of their way to support me at times when my mother’s alcoholism left her unable to properly care for me. One even let me stay overnight at their home. I know that teachers across Illinois go above and beyond to protect and support children and do what is right for their students. That’s why as governor, I will always stand up for our teachers and education support professionals. I strongly support the right of workers to bargain collectively over their wages, benefits and working conditions in the public and private sectors. And I will be committed to ensuring educators and support staff get the salaries and pensions they are due.
I have been a national advocate for early childhood education for over 20 years, including organizing the White House Summit on Early Childhood Education for President Obama in 2014 and expanding federal school breakfast grants to over 200,000 Illinois children in low-income school districts. I’ve also advocated for the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge designed to close the achievement gap for children with high needs, and the reauthorization of the Childcare and Development Block Grant, which helps low-income parents find childcare. I worked with Republicans in Illinois to advance the cause of kindergarten readiness, childcare, and preschool.
Providing a quality public education starts with early childhood. At the start of my campaign, I released a five-point plan for early childhood education that would make sure every child participates in kindergarten, puts the state on a path towards universal preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds, increases access to the Child Care Assistance Program, expands birth-to-three services, and attracts teachers to fill high need positions and invest in our education infrastructure. I have seen firsthand the fiscal benefits of preparing children properly for K-12 education. Research shows that investments in high-quality early learning opportunities, starting at birth and through age five, increases children’s school readiness, raises high school graduation rates, boosts labor participation, and improves health outcomes. All of that reduces the tax burden on Illinois taxpayers.
For too long, our public education system has suffered from systemic disinvestment by the state of Illinois, and that has only been exacerbated by Bruce Rauner’s budget crisis. I’m running for governor to reverse that systemic disinvestment, invest in public education, and move our state forward. As governor, I will work to provide a quality education for every child in Illinois.
Tackling the school funding gap
Illinois overhauled its K-12 funding formula last year, but the state still faces a huge gap between what it spends on education and the projected need. Would you try to close the gap more aggressively? If so, where would the money come from?
Rauner: I was proud to sign into law education funding reform, tackling a problem that previous governors have failed to address for decades. The bill provides more equitable funding for public schools across the state, and to ensure that the formula has the funding necessary, we need to reform our state’s spending to ensure that the mandated increases are met. We’ve saved half a billion dollars in Medicaid, and if the recommendations in my budget proposal are implemented, we can save billions more that can be put back into our education system.
Pritzker: By passing school funding reform legislation last year, the state took an essential step towards addressing the educational inequity that has plagued the state for too long. Rather than working with the legislature to pass it, Bruce Rauner sat on the sidelines and then vetoed the bill. With its enactment, school funding reform directs new funding to the students and schools that need it most. It is imperative that the state aggressively march toward the adequacy targets that were identified by experts in the field.
I also support a fair income tax so that Illinois can balance its budget and expand investment in public education. Illinois needs to replace its regressive flat income tax with a fair tax, the same type of fair tax that the vast majority of states and the U.S. government have. I believe that people like me and Bruce Rauner should pay a higher rate than teachers, firefighters, nurses, and childcare workers. We will also lower income taxes on the middle class and those striving to get there and raise the state’s share of education funding. A fair income tax will help us to lower local property taxes by alleviating the dependency on the regressive property tax system as the predominant source of school funding.
Would you move to expand or restrict school choice measures in Illinois? Please comment on charter schools and tax credit scholarships specifically.
Rauner: I am a strong supporter of providing more access to school choice in Illinois. One part of our education funding formula that I’m incredibly proud of is the first ever scholarship tax credit program in Illinois. The “Invest in Kids” program will provide students with a chance to choose the opportunities that best suit them and their families, and already we’ve seen tremendous interest in this program from students and families looking for greater opportunity. Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti has spoken extensively about a similar program that changed her life and gave her the chance to succeed. We know that this program will have the same impact in the lives of Illinois children.
Pritzker: A quality public education system that improves the well-being of every child and prepares them for the jobs of tomorrow is essential to our state and our future. I oppose diverting public education funds to private schools and I oppose school vouchers. We need to impose a moratorium on charter school expansion. With public schools inadequately funded, I oppose taking state money away from public schools for private school tax credits.
Elected school board for Chicago
Would you support an elected school board for Chicago Public Schools? Why or why not?
Rauner: No, making school board elected positions removes board members ability to make the best decisions for Chicago schools without the burden of reelection.
Pritzker: I support an elected school board that is inclusive and representative of stakeholders.
Students fleeing Illinois for college
Illinois has the worst out-migration of college students of any state, save for New Jersey. How would you shore up the university system and keep more of the best and brightest here?
Rauner: My administration announced plans to establish the Discovery Partners Institute in Chicago as an attempt to grow businesses and keep the best and brightest Illinois has to offer here in the state. DPI is a collaborative effort between college and universities in Illinois that will foster an attitude of entrepreneurship and development among college students. Businesses will come to Illinois to attract the talent that we develop in our world-class universities, and the DPI will bring together employers and top talent from Illinois to create forward-looking jobs here.
We can also keep students in Illinois by growing our economy so there are career opportunities when they graduate. That means lowering taxes, eliminating burdensome regulations, and making Illinois a welcoming state for new businesses to create jobs.
Pritzker: For Illinois to grow its globally competitive workforce, we need a world-class education system. During Bruce Rauner’s term in office, college has become less affordable, students have increasingly left our state, and too little is being done to train our workforce. It will take colleges and universities years to overcome the reputational damage Bruce Rauner caused with his 736-day budget crisis. Nonetheless, our state has tremendous academic talent, globally recognized universities, and businesses seeking talented graduates.
I understand that colleges and universities are hubs of economic growth, workforce training, and innovation. As governor, I’ll lead the effort to build a student-centered system of higher education that is more affordable, attractive to students nationally and globally, and aligned with the jobs of tomorrow. I will make college more affordable by increasing financial aid and restoring funding for colleges and universities to pre-Rauner levels. I will keep more of our students in state by promoting our public colleges and universities and making sure that community college credits transfer to public universities. Finally, I will increase economic opportunities by expanding career and technical education and encouraging more entrepreneurship and innovation on campuses across the state.
There is enormous potential for Illinois’ higher education to thrive, but to reverse the outmigration of college students from Illinois, it will take renewed leadership, a commitment to nurture and support education from cradle to career, and a plan. Juliana [Stratton, Prizker’s running mate and candidate for lieutenant governor] and I are committed to this all-important mission.
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