CHICAGO – A showdown over Illinois’ fiscal 2018 appropriation for school districts looms on Monday.
That’s when Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said he will send to Gov. Bruce Rauner Senate Bill 1, which overhauls school funding formulas and frees up fiscal 2018 appropriations to school districts.
Under the budget package, the state can’t distribute billions in school aid unless a new evidence-based model such as the one laid out in SB1 is adopted. Rauner has called the bill a “bailout” for Chicago Public Schools and plans to use his amendatory veto powers to cut in half CPS’ new $300 million in funding.
Cullerton’s announcement was the most notable development Wednesday as a special session called by Rauner over the school funding bill began. The session continues Thursday, but until Rauner gets the bill and amends it as threatened there’s little action to be taken.
Partisan tensions were on display in competing news conferences.
Cullerton defended his decision to hold on to the bill that passed in late May. With Rauner threatening an amendatory veto that could kill the bill, Cullerton is pushing for further negotiations.
“I just asked for a meeting….I want to explain the bill to him…he refuses to meet,” Cullerton said. “I’m afraid he’s acting out of anger.”
“You know he has had a bad month,” Cullerton said, citing the legislature’s overrides of the budget package and a 9-1-1 emergency services fee hike and Rauner's subsequent overhaul of his staff. “It’s because of the mental state of the governor.”
Cullerton said he’s concerned that Rauner will overstep his constitutional authority in amending the bill and that that could kill it. He intends to send the bill to Rauner’s desk Monday absent a meeting.
Rauner and the General Assembly’s minority Republican leaders then took their turn.
“President Cullerton should be ashamed of himself,” Rauner said. He wants the bill on his desk before engaging in any fresh negotiations. Rauner accused Democrats of holding school funding hostage over the CPS “bailout” and holding on to the bill to “create a crisis” as the first aid payment is scheduled to go out Aug. 10.
“Monday is outrageous…this is unconscionable,” Rauner said.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, then accused Rauner of attempting to keep the state in “chaos” in the coming weeks.
“The governor doesn’t believe in engaging in compromise,” Madigan said. “The governor should not veto education funding reform, because the plan soon to be on the governor’s desk is fair to the entire state, fair to every student in the state of Illinois.”
Democrats defend the additional CPS funding, which includes new help covering its teachers’ pension payments. The state will pay $4.6 billion next year to cover teachers’ pensions for districts across the state.
CPS has been the only district excluded in the past from such aid. Rauner argues that the district is well compensated with special block grant funding and that any new pension help should be part of a statewide pension reform package.
After Rauner amends the bill it would return to the Senate, which can vote with a simple majority to accept it – which is not likely – or attempt an override, which requires a three-fifths majority. Democrats hold a three-fifths majority. If lawmakers do nothing or find that the governor overstepped his authority, the bill would die. That would require some form of action to free up the school funding.
If an override succeeds, the bill would head to the House where Democrats lack a super majority. Madigan said support is growing for the bill and an override might succeed.
Some districts have said they might not survive without the aid, 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. 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.