CHICAGO – The prospect of swift legislative action to overhaul the Illinois education funding system appeared more remote Thursday, as the state House's top Democrat announced of a new task force to come up with a plan.
House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago, said the task force is needed to continue work on an equitable funding formula because a recent report from Gov. Bruce Rauner's bipartisan school funding reform commission left questions unanswered.
"The entire process for making formula changes – from crafting an overall outline for reform, to working through the specific details – needs to be carefully considered by legislators from across the state," Madigan said in a statement.
Madigan said House Democrats serving on the Rauner commission said aspects of the panel's final report failed to clearly reflect the group's discussions or recognize that the current system is over-reliant on property taxes and is underfunding by the state.
"We hope this new education reform task force is not an attempt to delay the positive work and progress of the Illinois School Funding Commission. As was discussed throughout the commission process, the goal was for the framework report to lead to a bill that could pass both chambers and be signed by Governor Rauner," the State Board of Education said in a statement.
The commission's report did not outline specific legislation, instead offering a framework.
Senate leaders are working on bill language overhauling the funding system based on the report in hopes of including it in their legislative budget package known as the "Grand Bargain."
Madigan's move Thursday raises additional questions over how the legislative package would fare should it win Senate approval and move to the House.
The Chicago Public Schools recently filed a lawsuit against the state alleging that the current funding system discriminates against students in violation of state civil rights laws. CPS is banking on additional aid over the long term to help stay afloat.
In another development Thursday that could impact attempts to break a 19-month-old stalemate over a state budget, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees announced that its members authorized a strike.
A strike is not imminent but more than 80% of members gave the union authorization to strike if a path forward on a contract can't be found.
The state's largest union has long been at loggerheads with the administration over a new contract.
"Let's be clear, we have come to this juncture today for just one reason only: the refusal of Gov. Rauner to negotiate with our union," said Roberta Lynch, AFSCME Council 31's executive director.
Rauner's general counsel Dennis Murashko responded in a statement: "The vote to authorize a strike is an attack on our state's hardworking taxpayers and all those who rely on critical services provided everyday. It is a direct result of AFSCME leadership's ongoing misinformation campaign about our proposal."