Two House Democrats directly defied Gov. Bruce Rauner’s call to show up in Springfield over education funding Wednesday, choosing instead to hold a service day as a show of opposition to the special session.
Rather than arriving at the Capitol with their colleagues, state Reps. Kelly Cassidy and Ann Williams instead showed up at Gale Community Academy, a Chicago Public School on the city’s North Side.
Joined by CPS parents, the lawmakers cleaned and painted the school’s classrooms in protest of what they called a “sham” and “political stunt” by the governor.
Rauner called the special session Monday after legislators did not send him Senate Bill 1, a measure to establish a new statewide school funding formula.
Calling it a “bailout” for Chicago, he has vowed to amendatory veto the bill to remove financial considerations for CPS’ block grant and pension payments – the only district statewide for which the state does not pick up employer contributions.
It’s currently being held on a procedural motion as Democrats seek more time to negotiate with the governor, who said Monday that there’s “nothing to discuss” until the bill is on his desk.
“We thought it was important to push back against the governor’s rhetoric that Senate Bill 1, which would provide equity for all Chicago students as well as students throughout the state, is a Chicago bailout,” Williams said Wednesday. “That’s inaccurate, unfair and wrong.”
A spokesperson for Rauner called it disappointing that two Dems who supported this bill won't show up to work on it, though Cassidy and Williams countered that they’re unable to act now, as the bill is not in the House.
“From a legislative perspective, there is no function a House member can perform in the current scenario,” Cassidy said in a statement, adding that SB 1 “would first have to be acted upon in the Senate” and that the governor “is counting on people to blindly accept his attacks on Chicago Schools and the children of our communities.”
“I cannot in good conscience sit in Springfield and accomplish nothing while my schools face very real and daunting budget challenges,” Williams added on Facebook. “I stand ready at a moment’s notice to return to Springfield should a vote be called or should the Governor be willing to meet regarding his threatened veto and its impact on our neighborhoods schools.”
Cassidy and Williams said they planned to perform service projects at schools around the area for each day of the special session, scheduled through Friday and again on Monday.
Rauner has imposed a deadline of July 31 to implement education funding reform, as schools across Illinois will be looking for the first general state aid payment by August 10.
That state funding, which is contingent upon shifting to an “evidence-based model,” is critical for some districts to be able to open their doors on time this fall.
“The families at Gale and in schools all over the city don’t have the luxury of nine homes and choosing which great school they want their kids to attend,” Cassidy’s statement ends. “They need these schools open on time. If I can’t make that happen with my votes, I intend to do everything I can to make it possible with my hands.”