Illinois House Takes Up School Funding, But Not Override

While Illinois schoolchildren romp the neighborhood grasping at summer vacation's final hours, political leaders in Springfield are locked in a showdown over paying for their education.

A landmark school-funding revamp that Gov. Bruce Rauner rejected with an amendatory veto this month lands in the Illinois House on Wednesday. There, Democrats who control the chamber will put the Republican governor's changes into a new piece of legislation and call it for a vote — sending it to almost certain defeat.

The action would allow Democrats to showcase a lack of support for Rauner's expansive edits and give them time to gather votes necessary to follow the Senate's lead in overriding the veto, making the original plan law over the governor's opposition.

Here's a look at how the issue reached this point:


The Democratic-controlled Legislature this year revamped the long-derided formula Illinois uses to pay for its public schools.

The former model aimed state money at schools with the least local property wealth, but opponents said it was outdated and underfunded. The new "evidence-based" model generally aims to funnel new school funding to the neediest districts first, based on statistical factors like local property wealth and the number of students in poverty or with limited English proficiency.

A key to the new plan was ensuring that no district would receive less money than it did last school year. Dubbed the "hold harmless" provision, the change would allow Chicago Public Schools to keep a $250 million-a-year grant that legislators put into law two decades ago to cover extra-educational expenses, such as bus transportation and special education.

Another provision in the legislation would require the state to pick up the employer's portion of Chicago teacher pensions, like it does for every other school district. Chicago Public Schools is the nation's third-largest school district.


Rauner calls the legislation, known as Senate Bill 1 , a Chicago schools "bailout." He insists the annual grant was intended to make up for Chicago schools paying their own pension portion.

Rauner used his amendatory veto power, available to only seven governors in the U.S., to rewrite the legislation. He stripped more than $450 million in funding for Chicago schools and redistributed it to other districts. He touted the changes as providing millions of dollars more for schools outside Chicago, which he claimed this week has been a patronage-hiring haven for decades.

His rewrite ventured far into other areas as well. Rauner's action would limit the district-based "hold harmless" guarantee to three years, applying it thereafter to individual students — meaning the money would follow students if they leave one school district for another.

The governor also factored in the calculations of an individual school district's potential wealth. One example involves school districts in counties that imposed property tax caps, which limit the amount of tax dollars that can be collected even if property values increase. A district in such a county wouldn't fully benefit from the higher property values, but Rauner's veto would add that additional wealth to the local district's calculation — and drive down state funding for the schools.


Democratic lawmakers have fought with Rauner over spending since the first-term governor took office in 2015. The state endured a two-year stalemate over a state budget, the longest of any state since at least the Great Depression, before the Legislature finally adopting one in July over Rauner's objections.

That spending plan included a school-funding twist: No state aid could be distributed unless through an evidence-based model, which wasn't part of the budget legislation. It was later proposed in Senate Bill 1, spearheaded by Democratic Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill, a central Illinois town about 40 miles (64 kilometers) north of St. Louis.

That pumped up pressure on Rauner to sign the bill but also delayed state money getting to schools, the first installment of which as due Aug. 10.

No school district has reported being unable to open, but few have indicated they can go longer than a semester without state aid.


The Senate endorsed Manar's school-funding bill in May with 35 votes, and the chamber put up 38 'yes' votes on Sunday to get a three-fifth majority needed to reverse Rauner's veto. An override is less certain in the House, where it would require 71 votes from a body with 67 Democrats.

That's in part why House Democrats plan to offer new legislation — with the Rauner veto language — for a vote Wednesday. They want to gauge how some Republicans may vote. Defeat for the plan would open the door for a veto override. The House deadline for an override is Aug. 28.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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