Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday visited a Clinton County school, where a student started a conversation about state funding for schools when the child asked, “Why are we so bad with money?”
The governor pointed to Illinois’ history of spending more money than it brings in when he answered the New Baden Elementary School student.
“We need to get balanced budgets, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Rauner said.
Rauner traveled to New Baden as part of his Learning Tour through the state. Schools submitted videos showing the innovate ways students are learning to win a visit from Rauner.
New Baden Elementary School’s kindergarten teacher Katie Mense submitted a video that was among the top five to receive the most votes on Rauner’s Facebook page.
This week, Illinois lawmakers returned to the Capitol to try to resolve a budget impasse that has lasted nearly two years. School funding reform is among the issues they’re considering, which Rauner said is one of his top priorities.
“We in Illinois, in our state government, partly because we don’t have balanced budgets, we don’t contribute as much to our schools from the state as other states do,” Rauner said to a gym full of New Baden students. “We give the smallest portion of school funding of any state in America.”
Rauner said he wants to increase state support for schools every year and change the funding formula, which is the way the money is allocated, so that smaller school districts and rural school districts get more of the new money.
He thinks lawmakers could pass a new formula “in the next few weeks” because similar school funding bills have been drafted by Illinois Democrats and Republicans.
“When I’ve studied the bills, they’re not dramatically different. They’re mostly similar,” Rauner said. “So I’m pretty optimistic that the two parties can come together in the General Assembly and iron out their differences and we can get one bill. And I’ll be eager to sign the bill.”
The Republican governor said he wasn’t surprised to hear a question about the state’s budget shortfalls, even from a young Illinois resident.
“It’s really the top discussion for families around the state,” he said.
While Rauner was in the metro-east, a grassroots initiative among nearly 400 superintendents was launched, urging lawmakers to pass a budget and school funding reform, in addition to providing districts the money they’re owed this year for things like transportation and special education services.
Some took to social media to show their support using the hashtag #PassILBudget, including Superintendent Jeff Dosier, who stated in a tweet that the state currently owes Belleville District 201 $3.26 million.
Other local school districts involved in the initiative include Belleville District 118, East St. Louis District 189, Smithton District 130, Central District 104, Millstadt District 160, O’Fallon District 90, Shiloh District 85, Cahokia District 187, O’Fallon District 203, Mascoutah District 19, Brooklyn District 188, Collinsville Unit 10 and Granite City District 9.
School funding is also the subject of a lawsuit that was filed against state leaders earlier this month in St. Clair County Court. The plaintiffs, 17 school districts in central and southern Illinois, say they want a new formula in Illinois for the cost of educating a student according to specific education standards set by the state, factoring in the resources schools need. Then, they want the state to provide the money.
During his visit, the students also asked Rauner where he lives and works and what a veto is. They were interested in his favorite food, a question he fielded three times. Rauner told them his top three favorites: ice cream, hamburgers and pizza.
Rauner said he was impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of the students and staff at New Baden Elementary.
“I wanted to stay in Mrs. Mense’s class,” he said. “They’re so excited to learn.”
The governor left the metro-east with gifts including a Wesclin Warriors T-shirt, a six-pack of Ski soda and a St. Louis Cardinals hat from Mense’s class. One kindergartener also drew Rauner a picture and another gave him a red heart sticker that he wore for the rest of his tour.
For the schools that won’t get a visit from the governor in person, there will be an opportunity to interact with Rauner live on social media this week.
He will answer questions posted to his Facebook page starting at 11 a.m. April 27 from his office in Springfield.