Rauner Calls Special Session Over School Funding

Governor Bruce Rauner called lawmakers back to Springfield for a special session Monday after lawmakers missed his deadline to send an education funding bill to his desk. 

"Democrats have been holding this bill since May 31. Our families and students cannot wait any longer," Rauner said in a statement. "We must act now, which is why I’m calling lawmakers back to Springfield for a special session. Our schools must open on time."

State aid for K-12 schools is contingent on changing Illinois’ funding formula to an "evidence-based model" like that of Senate Bill 1, which passed the legislature in May.

It is currently being held on a procedural motion, as Democratic lawmakers seek more time to negotiate after Rauner vowed to veto the measure, decrying it as a "bailout" for Chicago Public Schools. 

"There is a good, historic new school funding model, new school funding bill that is ready to be implemented," Rauner said Monday at a news conference with Republican leaders in the legislature and Education Secretary Beth Purvis. "It was hijacked at the last minute by the majority in Springfield and a poison pill was inserted to force payments to a pension system that’s broken unsustainable and it needs reform."

At issue is the way the bill factors CPS’ finances into what would become the new statewide funding formula. SB 1 eliminates the Chicago block grant, which automatically appropriates specific funding to CPS each year, but takes that $203 million into account – plus the district’s $221 million in employer pension contributions – when calculating the district’s baseline funding minimum.

That, plus the $505.8 million reduction in the bill’s assessment of Chicago’s local fundraising capabilities based on its unfunded pension liability, is what Rauner has maintained constitutes a "bailout" and has led to his insistence that reforming Chicago’s teacher pensions – the only system funded by the district and not the state – is a separate issue. [[432983263, C]]

"Separately we should take up pension reform," Rauner said Monday, "but in no way should it hold up our schools opening on time."

Rauner once again said Monday that once he receives it, he would amendatory veto the bill to take out the funding considerations for CPS, at which point lawmakers would have to choose between accepting or overriding his changes.

But after lawmakers did not send him the bill by 12 p.m., Rauner called a special session beginning Wednesday with a deadline of July 31, before the Illinois State Board of Education must begin making payments to the state's roughly 850 school districts. 

In that regard, Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, repeated his request for a meeting with the governor and four legislative leaders - which has not happened since late 2016 - before yet another $40,000 per day special session.

"I’d like to have a conversation with Governor Rauner in hopes of getting some clarity as to exactly what is going on," Cullerton said in a statement. "We slowed down the process in the Senate in order to let everyone blow off some steam, politically speaking. Six weeks later, the governor’s temper continues to flare."

"I don’t want him making statewide classroom funding decisions out of a position of anger," his statement continued. "I’d like the opportunity to make sure he knows what is in the proposal from the people who wrote it so he can make a rational decision." [[419186634, C]]

However, when asked if he would be willing to meet with the leaders before calling a special session – the second this year after lawmakers returned for 16 days last month to pass the state’s first budget in two years – Rauner said no, claiming that Democrats "want a crisis."

"I am happy to have all kinds of discussions after the bill is on my desk," he said. "There is nothing to discuss unless that bill is on my desk. What they’ll try to do is, as they’ve done for the last two and a half years, obfuscate, delay, have excuses, come and spin false messages to you after some meeting."

"They passed a bill. Our schools can’t open unless that bill or some other version of it becomes law," he added. "They are waiting. They don’t want to have any real progress until August. They want a crisis. They frankly seem like they want to have schools not open so they can force no real rational discussion or debate, just force SB 1 in its current form."

No matter what, something must be done to move Illinois to an evidence-based model of funding like the intent of SB 1, otherwise no state aid will be disbursed to schools – rendering many unable to open in the fall.

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