CHICAGO — Illinois public school districts’ months-long wait to receive about $560 million in new operational aid included in the fiscal 2008 budget will continue following Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s move on Friday to make some technical changes to pending legislation that requires General Assembly action. The governor used his amendatory veto powers to make certain technical changes in a budget implementation bill needed to release the funds. One of the changes characterized as needed corrections will speed up the delivery of additional special education funding for school districts in the current fiscal year. The bill contained a drafting error that delayed the additional special ed funds until the following fiscal year. “I hope the legislature will accept the technical changes we’ve made when they convene next week so schools can begin collecting the special education funding that’s critical to meeting their students’ needs,” Blagojevich said on Friday. Legislative leaders said the governor’s action was still being reviewed. Steve Brown, a spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, said the chamber’s Staff and Rules Committee would review the changes to ensure they comply with the state constitution and “take appropriate action.” Several education groups praised the change. “We are pleased that the governor was willing to consider and fix what we believe is a technical glitch in the fiscal years for special education reimbursements,” said Brent Clark, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators. “This is their first increase in the reimbursement rate since 1985 and is a top legislative priority for our association.” But some school officials and lawmakers questioned why the governor used his amendatory veto, which sends the measure back to lawmakers, over other methods — such as seeking passage of a supplemental bill dealing only with the special education issue — so the $560 million could more quickly be released. Under the legislation, the state’s foundation level used to determine a school district’s level of state aid will go up by $400 to $5,734 per student. About 816 districts will see an increase. The additional funds were included in the state’s $49 billion fiscal 2008 budget passed in August. However, legislative bickering between various factions andBlagojevich delayed passage of the companion budget implementation bill needed to actually release the funds. Lawmakers in early November finally passed the budget implementation bill, but the governor did not act on the bill until Friday. The delay has strained the budgets of some school districts that included the additional revenue in their fiscal 2008 budgets to cover operational costs or close out looming deficits, leaving some to consider cutting or short-term borrowings or loans. As lawmakers return to work this week they also will be pressured to act on a more than $20 billion long-term capital bill financed by expanded gaming in the state and a Chicago-area transit bailout package. Many lawmakers did not attend a special session called by the governor last week to deal with the transit package. Blagojevich has endorsed a proposal that would redirect more than $300 million in annual gasoline tax revenues collected in the Chicago area from the state general fund to the Regional Transportation Authority of Illinois and its service boards. Without additional funding, the Chicago Transit Authority is set to cut service and raise fares on Jan. 20. Also in jeopardy is a CTA agreement with its unions that includes various reforms and paves the way for $1.5 billion in borrowing to shore up the authority’s unfunded pension and unfunded health care benefit liability.
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