Rauner: No Must-Haves In School Funding Deal

Bruce Rauner in the WBEZ studios August 2017
Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks on WBEZ's 'Morning Shift.' Andrew Gill / WBEZ
Bruce Rauner in the WBEZ studios August 2017
Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks on WBEZ's 'Morning Shift.' Andrew Gill / WBEZ

Rauner: No Must-Haves In School Funding Deal

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Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner said on Friday that he hasn’t insisted on any specific policies in a compromise over school funding. But Democrats claimed the governor made a strong push for a plan to divert public money toward private school tuition.

Rauner’s statements came on the same day that the ongoing political impasse forced the Illinois state government to miss a second payment to schools across the state. The lack of a school-funding formula has held up nearly all state education payments to school districts before the start of the new academic year.

“There is nothing that has to be in there — Nothing has to be in there,” Rauner said on WBEZ’s Morning Shift.

Legislative leaders were scheduled to meet in private Friday to negotiate, but Rauner is not expected to attend. State Rep. Will Davis (D-East Hazel Crest), who has been a lead negotiator for House Democrats, told WBEZ that Republicans have been pushing a tax scholarship program that its opponents — including teachers unions — said is another name for school vouchers.

“As a negotiator, I would say that part of our last conversation was about that tax credit program, so that’s something he’s put on the table,” Davis said.

There has been no legislation put forward for the tax-credit scholarship program. Advocates said they’re proposing a $100 million program where individuals and corporations could donate money to nonprofit scholarship funds, which would distribute it to students around the state to help fund their tuition to private or parochial schools. Students could also use the money to offset the cost of attending public schools outside their home districts.

WBEZ earlier reported that the advocates’ initial proposal would give donors to the scholarship funds a dollar-for-dollar state tax break for their contributions, essentially diverting tax dollars away from the state in order to pay for private education. The draft proposal would allow the program to grow rapidly, and could encompass a large swath of Illinois families, not just poor ones, according to a WBEZ analysis.

Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) said the House of Representatives will vote next week to override Rauner’s partial veto of the bill to overhaul the state’s school funding formula.

Rauner said he agrees with most of the language of the school funding bill, but disagrees with the financial impact of it. He’s called it a “bailout” for Chicago Public Schools at the expense of other districts around the state.

“The financial impact of the bill is to unfairly — unfairly — take money away from poverty districts around the state in Waukegan, North Chicago, Rockford and Maywood and fund Chicago’s financial mismanagement,” Rauner said.

Funding Fight Spawns Controversial Cartoon

As an example of the escalating tension surrounding the school funding debate, the Illinois Policy Institute recently came under fire for publishing — and then removing — a controversial editorial cartoon. The Illinois Policy Institute is a conservative advocacy organization with strong connections to Rauner.

Critics, including Democratic and Republican lawmakers, lambasted the cartoon for being racist in its depiction of an African-American Chicago child begging on the street for school money from a white man wearing a suit and smoking a cigar, with a wad of cash sticking out of his back pocket.

Rauner on Friday said he still had not seen the much-publicized editorial cartoon.

“Yesterday, on WVON, the radio host there said they didn’t view it as racist or bigoted at all and that their listeners didn’t either,” Rauner said, referring to Chicago’s popular African-American talk radio station. “I don’t know. I haven’t seen the cartoon.”

Rauner recently hired several members of the Illinois Policy Institute onto his staff, serving as his chief-of-staff, policy director and communications director.

In a statement announcing it was removing the cartoon from its website, Policy Institute CEO John Tillman — who said he talks “regularly” with Rauner — wrote, “We have taken down the cartoon, not because we think it is racist, but because it is a distraction from another truth — the failure of political leaders to address the root cause of our struggling education system.”

Tony Arnold reports on state politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.