Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto Tuesday of the school funding bill he had pressed lawmakers to send him as the battle over education spending continues to put money for districts statewide at risk just weeks before classes begin.
"If the changes I have recommended are upheld, Illinois will have achieved a tremendous feat. Our state will enact historic education reform," Rauner said shortly after announcing his veto.
Illinois' Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled Legislature now appear headed for yet another showdown as the bill returns to the General Assembly just one day after it was sent to Rauner.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from or who your family is. With a great education, you can go anywhere in life and be whomever you want to be. You can grow up, get a good job and provide for your family. That’s why the changes I have made to the education funding bill are so important,” Rauner said in a statement. “With my changes, our state ensures that enough resources flow to children in the poorest and most disadvantaged school districts across the entire state. And my changes ensure that the education funding system in our state is fair and equitable to all students in Illinois.”
Among the changes Rauner has requested are removing a Chicago block grant from the funding formula, removing a minimum funding requirement and removing both Chicago Public Schools pension considerations from the formula, among other things.
Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, warned that Rauner's changes would jeopardize money for schools statewide. That's because if legislators can't muster enough votes to either approve or override the governor — scenarios that appear unlikely — the legislation dies, and there's no backup plan ready to go.
Cullerton urged Rauner to "do the right thing" and sign the legislation, which is aimed at making school funding more equitable and ensuring districts have adequate funds to educate students.
"Students, parents, teachers and taxpayers have waited long enough," he said. "This is a chance to make a huge, meaningful change for Illinois."
Rauner has accused Democrats of sitting on the bill to force a crisis. His spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, said they were "holding our students hostage and threatening our public schools' ability to open on time."
A new school formula is required as part of a budget deal that legislators approved earlier this month over Rauner's veto. Without new legislation, schools won't get paid. The first payment to schools is due Aug. 10.
While schools are expected to open on time even without state funding, many districts have said they'll have to make cuts or even close their doors if lawmakers can't agree on a plan by fall.
In southern Illinois, Sandoval Superintendent Jennifer Garrison said she is assessing the approximately 500-student district's finances on a week-to-week basis. Without a state infusion, the district might be able to make payroll for as many as two months, considering its cash on hand, reserves and local property tax revenue.
But Garrison said she has frozen spending in the district to essentials only, including power and water.
She said the funding limbo is especially frustrating because the school has recently experienced improvements it hopes to continue, such as its highest graduation rate in years.
"The focus is on politics instead of being on the children where it needs to be," she said. "I hope the leaders can rise above the politics."
A bipartisan group of lawmakers met during the weekend and again Monday to try to reach a compromise.
Democrats involved in the talks described the closed-door meetings Monday afternoon as "friendly" and positive, and said they asked Republicans to continue to try to reach a compromise.
"We would rather not go to a veto showdown," said Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat who sponsored the bill.
But minutes after Manar spoke to reporters, Republican state Sen. Jason Barickman ripped the talks as "a charade" and accused his Democratic counterparts of playing political games.
Democrats then lifted a hold on the legislation they passed in May and sent it to the governor.
Lawmakers from both parties agree the 20-year-old calculation currently used to fund public schools in Illinois is unfair and forces school districts to rely heavily on property taxes, creating huge disparities in per-student funding. But lawmakers have clashed over how to fix it.
The proposed formula channels money to the neediest districts first after ensuring that no district receives less money than last school year. It also includes pension help for Chicago.
Democrats insist the pending proposal is fair since Chicago is the only Illinois district that pays the employer portion of teacher pension costs. Republicans say the new formula means Chicago will continue to get money that it previously received as a block grant. Rauner has called it a "bailout."
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel accused Rauner of "ignoring the needs of Illinois' school children, the desires of school superintendents across the state, the voices of newspaper editorials across the state, and the recommendations of his own education funding commission."
"His math is fuzzy, his claims have been proven false and the only thing the governor's action advances is his own personal brand of cynical politics," Emanuel said in a statement. "It is well past time for Governor Rauner to stop playing politics with our children’s futures, start demonstrating leadership, and ensure a child's education isn't determined by their zip code or his political whims.”