Rauner Criticizes School Funding Deal as Some Democrats Slam Tuition Tax Credits

Just days after lawmakers announced that they had reached a tentative agreement on education funding reform, that compromise appears to be getting pushback from both sides of the aisle.

After applauding the four top legislative leaders for "coming to a consensus" on Thursday, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner swiped at Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan the following day for putting "a bunch of bad things" into the deal.

Appearing before the Marion Chamber of Commerce, Rauner told business leaders in southern Illinois on Friday that lawmakers were "on the verge of what is largely good education funding reform" to fix Illinois' school funding system that has been found to be among the least equitable in the nation.

"The bad news is, Speaker Madigan's caucus took the bill and inserted a bunch of bad things in it," Rauner said. "We’re trying to get out as many of those as we can. They’re trying to divert a lot of the money that should be coming to southern Illinois and central Illinois and divert it to the broken financial condition of Chicago. So, we’ve been battling that and it’s not been easy."

Adding that the funding in question "shouldn’t go to Chicago," the first-term governor once again turned the blame on Democrats for inserting provisions "to assist Chicago in its financial crisis."

"It’s not fair but it’s going to end up being a compromise," Rauner said. "It’s not where we’d like it to be and what I’ll try to do is fix the problems with it in subsequent legislation."

Though he did not offer further details on what future changes may be in store, Rauner’s comments were a departure from his statement the day before.

On Thursday, he thanked the leaders for their work on the "historic" reform, which has been the center of a monthslong battle in Springfield as school budgets across the state hang in the balance.

At issue is Senate Bill 1, a measure passed by the legislature to move Illinois to an "evidence-based model" of education funding, which would take into account each district’s individual needs, as well as its local revenue sources, when appropriating state aid – prioritizing districts that are furthest from being fully-funded.

Without an evidence-based model in place, no state funding can be disbursed to K-12 schools across Illinois at all, due to a provision in the budget passed in July that makes aid contingent on an overhaul of the funding formula.

Critics of SB 1, including Rauner, have called it a "bailout" for cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools because the bill as passed took into account the district’s $505 million in unfunded pension liability, plus $221 million in its normal pension payments, as well as the $203 million Chicago Block Grant, when determining how much it should receive in state funding.

The governor's amendatory veto earlier this month made several changes to the bill that included the removal of those considerations – which would result in CPS receiving $463 million less in state aid, according to an analysis from the Illinois State Board of Education.

While specifics of Thursday’s compromise – hammered out through a series of closed-door meetings – have not yet been made public, it may include an additional $300 million to CPS above Rauner’s plan, as well as giving the state’s largest school district the authority to raise property taxes.

In exchange, changes to the way tax increment financing districts are calculated into a school’s local funding capabilities may be imminent, at Republicans’ behest, plus a potential allowance for districts to get rid of requirements like physical education, for which the state does not provide funding.

One of the more contentious results of the negotiations is a possible tuition tax credit pilot program for which officials may earmark up to $75 million for tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools.

That was one of the features that Rauner called a "good reform" on Friday, though progressive Democrats, as well as several unions like the Illinois Education Association, quickly denounced it as an effort to create a statewide voucher program. 

A sponsor of SB 1 as it passed the legislature, state Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) tweeted Friday that he planned to vote against any bill "that contains a tax break for private scholarship donations," calling the proposal an "insidious right-wing assault on public education."

"This current deal is a naked attempt by billionaire right-wing ideologue Gov. Bruce Rauner to push through a reverse Robin Hood scheme that siphons money from poor school districts and lets the wealthy avoid paying their fair share in taxes," the Chicago Teachers Union said in a statement, also slamming Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his "tacit support of school vouchers."

State Senator Daniel Biss, widely thought to be among the more progressive candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to run for governor against Rauner, said he was "encouraged" by the negotiations before slamming the tax credit program. 

"It is absurd that, in order to fund public schools, Governor Rauner and his allies are demanding a tax credit scheme that will just put more money in the pockets of millionaires and billionaires," Biss said in a statement.

"The private school voucher program doesn't help create a more equitable education system — it's a false choice, and just the latest example of Rauner putting millionaires over the middle class," he continued. 

Legislators were briefed on broad details of the tentative deal Friday, though the legislation has not been formally introduced.

The four top leaders plan to meet again Sunday in anticipation of a House vote Monday, followed by a vote on Tuesday in the Senate - which already overrode Rauner's amendatory veto, but would need to approve any further changes to the bill. 

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