In the last few weeks before students expect to return to school, education funding from the state remains uncertain.
The state approved a budget earlier this month by overriding the governor’s veto of the spending plan. But schools won’t get any of the money appropriated for general state aid until lawmakers agree on a funding formula, which is how the money will be distributed to them.
General state aid is based primarily on the local property wealth within each school district.
The General Assembly approved a formula in May through Senate Bill 1, which supporters say sends new money to the areas that need it most.
Opponents say the legislation includes a flaw: an amendment that says the state will pick up the employer contribution for Chicago Public Schools’ pensions, which it does for every other school district, as well as Chicago’s unpaid pension debt.
The legislation hasn’t yet been sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk because it’s being held for consideration. But the Republican governor promises to use his amendatory veto power to ask lawmakers to change Senate Bill 1.
Rauner met with the News-Democrat’s editorial board Thursday to discuss the legislation.
He said he wants to see the “pension baloney” removed from the school funding bill and for the legislature to consider Chicago Public Schools’ pension issues separately.
“My message is: let’s do pension reform,” Rauner said. “That’s fine. … But don’t use leverage of our schools and taking money away from the districts that need it to force no pension reform, just payments from the state to the mismanaged Chicago pensions. That’s wrong.”
Rauner blames House Speaker Michael Madigan for the addition of what he calls a “bailout” for Chicago Public Schools.
Madigan told The State Journal-Register in June that Senate Bill 1 was debated for more than a year and that the legislation is supported by “all of the educational advocacy organizations.”
“For people to say they can’t be for Senate Bill 1 is really questionable,” Madigan told the newspaper.
Some school leaders in the metro-east have expressed support of Senate Bill 1, but Rauner says that’s likely because they’re afraid.
“They are petrified that Madigan will give them less or nothing,” he said.
Granite City District 9 Superintendent Jim Greenwald doesn’t see it that way.
“We’re not scared at all,” Greenwald said. “... We’re looking for some fairness.”
Belleville District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier said the reason he supported Senate Bill 1 was “because it’s passed both houses.” The Illinois House voted 60-52 to approve the legislation, and the Senate voted 35-22.
“We just need to have that solution, and we need to have that sooner than later,” Dosier said. “... There are many schools in the state that depend on that money right away (in the school year). If it’s a couple months late, it doesn’t hurt us as bad as it does some.”
The governor expects to see lawmakers wait until August to send Senate Bill 1 to him for a signature, which is when he says schools need the money to open their doors. Rauner said he plans to act “immediately” when the bill reaches his desk.
“I want schools to open on time,” he said. “... At this point, there’s only one Republican — I’m not going to name names right now — who’s been indicating on the fence on this education issue. Every other one says, ‘This SB 1 is a bad bill, and the amendatory veto would be the better way to go.’”
State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, a sponsor of Senate Bill 1, said in a statement that he believes Rauner is “more interested in spouting divisive soundbites than in solving the real problems that grip Illinois.”
“Given his repeated pledges to veto this historic and vitally important legislation — despite his reported support of 90 percent of what’s in the bill — of course we are doing everything we can to protect it from his poor judgment,” Manar stated.
Education Secretary Beth Purvis told reporters last week that Rauner supported 90 percent of the legislation.
State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, said he plans to support Rauner’s amendatory veto. He previously voted against Senate Bill 1.
“This is our money being shipped up north to bail out their mismanagement,” he said of the money for Chicago pensions.
The governor said during an April visit to a metro-east school that he would be “eager to sign” an education funding bill. But since then, he says Speaker Madigan inserted a “last minute” amendment into Senate Bill 1 that added the pension payments for Chicago.
Rauner doesn’t think the state should contribute to Chicago’s pensions without reforms to the system and that it should be responsible for its own pension debt.
Manar has argued that Senate Bill 1 would treat Chicago the same as the rest of the state.
“The state picks up teacher pension costs for every district except Chicago,” Manar wrote in a column for Crain’s Chicago Business. “Senate Bill 1 adds Chicago into the equation for the first time ever, in the interest of fairness.”
Chicago Public Schools receive a special $250 million block grant from the state because the system pays its own pension. Rauner said Senate Bill 1 allows Chicago to keep that money, in addition to money for new and old pension costs, which he opposes.
“It’s a triple whammy against taxpayers of this state,” Rauner said. The amendatory veto would focus on the pension funding, he said, and leave the $250 million payment that Chicago historically received from the state. Supporters of Senate Bill 1 say the block grant was factored into Chicago Public Schools’ state funding under the plan because no school district is receiving less money than it did last fiscal year.
“If we’re not going to pick up the pension, then the $250 (million) could stay,” Rauner said. “We gotta do what’s fair.”
Rauner said his amendatory veto would shift close to $300 million from Chicago Public Schools to the rest of the state’s school districts.
“Which for our schools, especially our low-income schools, is huge. And that’s where it would be concentrated,” he said. “Every school district will do at least as well with my amendatory veto. Nobody will be worse, and most school districts will do way better.
“And…the more concentrated low income families, the better they’ll do under my amendatory veto. So we’re closing the gap.”
Belleville District 201 would receive nearly $2.8 million with the changes Rauner suggests, which is more than $800,000 more than it would receive under Senate Bill 1, according to numbers provided by the governor’s office.
The state has a responsibility to pay its fair share of education for our local schools.
State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville
“Personally, I would rather have the amount that the governor says we’re going to get,” Superintendent Dosier said.
State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, who voted against Senate Bill 1, said in a statement that she hopes Rauner and legislators can negotiate to “create a better deal for all schools.”
“As a former public school teacher, the wife of a school principal and the mom of two teenagers in the public school system, the quality of our local schools is of great concern to me,” Stuart stated. “The state has a responsibility to pay its fair share of education for our local schools.”
She said Senate Bill 1 “could be fairer for local schools.”
State Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem, said he’ll support “whatever gets the most money for schools in my district.” He voted against Senate Bill 1.
“If the governor makes an amendatory veto to take out the extra Chicago money, I can’t see me supporting efforts to override his veto at this time,” Cavaletto said in a statement.
In Granite City District 9, which stands to gain between $2.3 million and $3.4 million under the proposals, Superintendent Greenwald says the state money is necessary.
He said Granite City schools could open on time without a decision on school funding and operate through April.
The district previously had to make cuts to its vocational programs to save money, according to Greenwald.
“This is a blue collar town,” he said “… We cannot continue making these cuts. There are no more cuts to make.”
Superintendent Brad Skertich said Southwestern District 9 in Macoupin County could operate until February, but that it would have to use all of its reserves, which he said were built up over decades.
“After that’s gone, we will never recover from that,” he said.
Dosier said schools need a compromise from state leaders so they can move forward.
“We’ve come this far. It’s a shame that we’re having to have another road block in getting to the solution,” he said.
What’s the difference?
The following are the differences in state money that Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office says will be sent to schools under Senate Bill 1, school funding legislation, and his plan to amendatory veto specific aspects of that legislation:
Senate Bill 1
Belle Valley 119
East St. Louis 189
Granite City 9
High Mount 116
New Athens 60
Signal Hill 181
St. Libory 30
How they voted
Here’s how Southern Illinois senators voted on Senate Bill 1, the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act:
- Sen. James Clayborne, Jr. (D-Belleville) — Yes
- Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) — No
- Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) — No
And how Southern Illinois representatives voted:
- Rep. Dan Beiser (D-Alton) — Yes
- Rep. Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) — Yes
- Rep. LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis) — Yes
- Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) — Yes
- Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) — No
- Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) — No