Illinois Senate Rejects Rauner Veto Of School-Funding Plan

Bruce Rauner
Associated Press
Bruce Rauner
Associated Press

Illinois Senate Rejects Rauner Veto Of School-Funding Plan

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The Illinois Senate overturned Gov. Bruce Rauner on public education funding Sunday, voting to override an amendatory veto despite the Republican governor’s contention that his changes would mean millions of dollars more for school districts outside Chicago.

The Senate voted 38-19 to reject significant changes the first-term governor made to the landmark legislation. The gubernatorial editing, which came in a veto of legislation containing a newly devised school-funding model, stripped Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Ahead of the vote, Rauner promoted an Illinois State Board of Education analysis of the amendatory veto’s impact that he said showed that “the vast majority of our neediest districts get millions” of dollars more.

But the argument did not sway Democrats who control the Legislature. They stuck with the “evidence-based” funding model they adopted in May. It’s designed to determine funding levels for specific districts based in part on the number of students living in poverty, lacking English-language skills and other data-driven measurements.

Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill who sponsored the plan, said Rauner would rob Peter to pay Paul. Manar said his plan, known as Senate Bill 1 , ensures that no school district would receive less state aid than it did this past school year, a provision known as “hold harmless.”

“Taking money away from one district — the largest in the state, which educates children in poverty — and giving it to other districts in the state which educate children in poverty, is not a solution that’s going to lead to greater equity,” Manar said. “Senate Bill 1 results in no red numbers, no losses.”

The dust-up prevented the State Board of Education from releasing the first state-aid payment, due Aug. 10. Many public school districts are scheduled to open this week or next week. None has indicated it won’t open, but most say they can’t hold class all year without state money.

The motion to override the governor’s veto now moves to the House, which convenes Wednesday. There, an override, which also requires a three-fifths majority vote, is less certain.

Manar, like Rauner, said he’s willing to compromise. Manar told reporters after the Senate vote that lawmakers assigned to school-funding negotiations will meet again Tuesday. He urged House Republicans with differing ideas to come forward. But he said short of a deal, the House should also vote to override.

A key to Manar’s plan is the “hold harmless” stipulation, which ensures no less funding than last year. That includes a grant of $250 million for Chicago schools that lawmakers negotiated two decades ago. Rauner said the grant is a “bailout” for the cash-strapped school district and unfair to the other 850 school districts in the state.

Two hours before the Senate action to override Rauner, the governor implored lawmakers to embrace his changes and recognize “true fairness and equity.” He extolled the state education board’s analysis of his changes, saying it was “great news” for children statewide.

“The numbers bear out how broken our system is and how important our changes are. It shows that for years the state has been sending money to Chicago at the expense of the rest of the state,” Rauner said.

Democratic lawmakers, who ended a two-year budget stalemate by approving a state budget over Rauner’s objections in July, prohibited the state from disbursing school aid unless done through an evidence-based platform, such as the one in Senate Bill 1. Because neither the legislation nor any other evidence-based program has become law, the state can’t cut any aid checks to schools.

Senate President John Cullerton issued a statement saying Illinois parents and children have waited long enough for “needed overhaul.”

“The Senate moved our state one step closer to getting rid of the worst funding system in the nation,” the Chicago Democrat said. “I hope the House will be able to do the same and finally bring the reform Illinois public schools need.”