Paul Rauner is riding his horse across Illinois and sounding the alarm: “August is coming! August is coming! Your kids might not go back to school!”
On the other side is the patient Gen. Mike “Status Quo” Madigan, who gazes at the years stretching out like legions and is unruffled by alarmists and needs of the moment. “This one, too, shall pass.”
Rauner hopes to convince Madigan’s loyalists to join the revolution for the greater good. Madigan has faith in his power to crush the insurrection.
Too bad Illinois’ schoolchildren are likely to be crushed between the combatants.
Last summer Gov. Bruce Rauner got lawmakers to agree that their budget and reform disagreements should not hold the state’s students hostage. The school funding portion of the state budget was passed.
No such deal this year. House Speaker Madigan realizes he made a strategic blunder last year by allowing the schools to get money. This year he will use that leverage and point to Rauner as the man pushing an “extreme” personal agenda that “hurts the middle class.”
So your kindergartener just became a child soldier in the Army of Madigan. Here’s how the schools are likely to react if there is no hope of state funding until after the November elections:
• Some districts are property tax poor and live hand-to-mouth on state checks. Those districts will not open in August if there is no state budget for 2017.
• Some districts have enough property taxes and can drain funds to open and operate until November-ish. They can open and hope state lawmakers can do in 2017 what they failed to do for nearly all of 2016 — pass a state budget. The Illinois Constitution mandates a budget each year and that it be balanced, so lawmakers are at Strike 2 for passing and Strike 15 for balanced.
• That same group of schools could decide that union contracts or being fair to teachers or being upfront so parents can plan means they would be reckless were they to open in August and drain all their cash. They could decide not to open until the state gets its act together.
• Some districts, mainly in the Chicago suburbs, could open and be fine for much of the year because most of their money is from property taxes. This is a small minority in Illinois.
Districts later this month must start putting their plans in motion. The hidden cost from the budget boondoggle is that new teachers will look outside Illinois for jobs and some experienced teachers may decide the uncertainty is worth joining the convoy of moving vans out of Illinois.
The one glimmer is that when Madigan’s $7 billion deficit budget came up for a vote in the Illinois Senate, they refused to pass it. Even our own state Sen. James Clayborne, a Democrat from Belleville and the Senate’s second-most powerful member, chickened out and voted “present.” Our other local state Senators, Democrat Bill Haine and Republicans Dave Luechtefeld and Kyle McCarter, opposed the Madigan budget bill.
Maybe there is a glimmer of hope this summer for a 6-month state budget and money for our schools. Before then, Rauner and his nag have a lot of musket fire to duck and poisoned wells to avoid.