Some Lawmakers Head to Springfield for Special Session on School Funding

Some, but not all, lawmakers are headed to Springfield Wednesday after Gov. Bruce Rauner called a special session on school funding this week.

The education funding battle has taken center stage in Illinois politics this week, with pressure mounting on several fronts for the governor and state lawmakers. The outcome of the special session could determine whether or not schools will open on time this fall. 

At least two state representatives have said they plan to boycott the special session

State Reps. Kelly Cassidy and Ann Williams will not be among the lawmakers heading back to Springfield Wednesday, the Chicago Democrats announced in a release, saying they “reject” the “political stunt.”

Instead, they plan to hold a service day painting classrooms at Gale Community Academy, a Chicago Public School on the city’s North Side.

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The clock is ticking to make a decision on the matter, however. The first checks from the state are expected to go out to schools Aug. 10 and if lawmakers can't agree on a school funding plan, many schools may not be able to open on time. 

Rauner released a new online campaign ad Tuesday, calling on his wife to offer testimony on his education record.

"It's about doing what's right, not what's easy,” Diana Rauner says in the new ad, running just one day after the governor called lawmakers back to the Capitol in a battle over the state’s schools.

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.

However, Rauner said Monday that he would be unwilling to meet with legislative leaders until SB 1 is on his desk, claiming “there is nothing to discuss” and Democrats “want a crisis.”

Democratic Speaker of the House Mike Madigan took issue with that, issuing a statement Tuesday that pointed fingers at Rauner for “continuing to create a crisis that pits one child against another.”

“The governor knows very well that the education funding reform bill in question is not in the House, and members of the House cannot take positive action on the governor’s call until it is in our chamber, especially as he refuses to even detail the changes he would like,” Madigan’s statement continued.

“Governor Rauner, however, can take action. Instead of simply paying lip service to how desperately Illinois’ schools, educators, students and property taxpayers need education funding reform, he can put aside his veto threats and sign a bill he is on record as supporting 90 percent of,” he added.

“Instead of playing political games with our children’s education, he can agree to sign a bill that fixes one the most inequitable funding formulas in the country. I urge the governor to stand with us in choosing reform over a status quo that is failing our students.” [[419186634, C]]

At issue is the way the bill factors CPS’ finances into what would become the new statewide funding formula. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel met with both Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton Monday as he continued his calls for Rauner to sign the legislation.

"My view is do what's right," Emanuel said Tuesday. "I know for a fact the old Bruce Rauner – before there was this coup in his office – supported, by saying he agrees with 90 percent of the funding in education, 90 percent of what's in this bill," he added.

In the midst of his major staff overhaul – over the course of which nearly two dozen staffers have resigned or been fired – the Republican governor is hoping to rally his own party behind him.

Early Thursday, Rauner will meet with legislators in the first-ever joint House and Senate GOP caucus, no doubt looking to see where they stand.

“Sometimes we need fresh troops to engage in the battle and that's what we've done. It signals no shift or change in my views," Rauner said Monday when asked about the changes in his office.

He’s imposed a deadline on education funding reform of July 31, as schools across Illinois will be looking for the first general state aid payment by August 10.

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