CHICAGO – The fate of Illinois’ fiscal 2018 appropriation for school districts remains up in the air with a showdown looming in the coming days between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly’s Democratic majority.
Rauner on Monday called lawmakers back to work for a special session beginning Wednesday. Rauner earlier in the day had set a noon deadline for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, to send him Senate Bill 1, which overhauls how aid is distributed, so he can amend it to his liking.
The $36.1 billion budget package lawmakers adopted over Rauner’s opposition earlier this month allows for distribution of appropriated aid only if a shift is made to an evidence-based model such as the one in SB1. Rauner wants to cut by about half the nearly $300 million in extra aid Chicago Public Schools would receive under the bill, calling it a “pension bailout.”
“Our schools must open on time with the full appropriate amount of money,” Rauner said. “We cannot allow the majority in the General Assembly to hold school opening hostage for their own political agenda. It is wrong and unfair for them to hold this school funding bill. There is no legitimate reason.”
Rauner and GOP leaders want final action in place on a school appropriation by the end of the month to ensure schools open. “This is a crisis that needs to be solved before the end of the month,” Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said at the Rauner news conference.
Cullerton called on Rauner to halt his veto threats and return to the negotiating table with legislative leaders.
“Last week, the governor didn’t know where he’s getting the education numbers he’s been using. He lashes out over what he calls a ‘Chicago bailout,’ but the same provision appears in his ‘plan.’ He calls Senate Bill 1 ‘historic’ and then says he will veto it immediately,” Cullerton said. “I’d like the opportunity to make sure he knows what is in the proposal from the people who wrote it so he can make a rational decision.”
Rauner dismissed the request as political posturing and said he wants the bill on his desk before any fresh discussions.
Democrats and Republicans agree the state’s current system, which that doles out about $8 billion in various forms of aid and $4 billion to cover teachers’ pension payments for all but the Chicago schools, is flawed. Rauner’s top education advisor had said he likes 90% of SB1 but considers the CPS pension funding a “bailout” that should be part of a statewide pension reform package.
A report from the administration on how Rauner would use his veto to redistribute aid across all districts says CPS would receive nearly $150 million in additional funding from new pension help and an altered aid formula while special block grant funding would be cut. The administration has not provided additional information behind the report's calculations for aid levels each district would receive or explained the contradiction on pension funding.
The first state aid payment to all districts is owed Aug. 10. While CPS has said it can open on time, some districts have said they might not or that they can only make it for a few months. Some districts have said they are at risk of draining reserves and will need to borrow, while others have said they lack borrowing capacity.
If a compromise isn't reached and Rauner gets the bill and amends it, the clock will start clicking on a 15-day deadline. A move to override could occur, but it’s unclear whether both chambers could muster the three-fifths majority needed.
CPS believes an expansive reshaping of the bill would violate the state constitution and the legislature has rules in place that would could the legislation to a special committee to consider whether Rauner overstepped his authority. The legislation would likely then languish and end up dying.
CPS is banking on the extra $300 million to help whittle down a $544 million deficit. It will release its budget Aug. 7.
SB1 provides an overall increase in funding of $715 million bringing aid levels to about $6.7 billion. That includes $221 million CPS pensions and an increase of $350 million in new funding to be distributed to districts through the new formula. It also includes an increase of $50 million for early childhood education.