Special Session Slated if Rauner Doesn't Get School Bill

Gov. Bruce Rauner said Friday he wants lawmakers to send him an education funding bill by noon Monday or face daily special sessions until month's end to ensure the state's schools open on time.

The Republican repeated his vow to use what is called an amendatory veto to take out of the legislation portions he says are too generous to Chicago schools. But whether it's the legislation the General Assembly approved to revise the school funding formula or another plan, he wants quick action as the dog days of summer dissolve into homeroom attendance calls.

"There is no excuse — none — for our schools not to open on time," Rauner said during a visit to Auburn High School, 25 miles south of Springfield.

Senate President John Cullerton later issued a statement discouraging "expensive special sessions" and suggesting Rauner "end the secrecy" of how he calculates what he says is an improved plan. [[432983263, C]]

The budget lawmakers adopted this month that ended a two-year political struggle over an annual spending plan requires Rauner to distribute school aid through a revised method, endorsed in separate legislation, which provides money to the neediest schools first.

But Democrats, fearing a veto, never sent Rauner the measure setting up the "evidence-based" funding system. So there's no system in law to distribute general state funding to the state's 851 school districts. Lawmakers aren't obligated to ever send him the bill.

A memo to local administrators from state schools Superintendent Tony Smith, obtained by The Associated Press, points out that the total elementary and secondary school budget is $11.9 billion.

While $6.7 billion must be put through an "evidence-based" model not yet in law, the Illinois State Board of Education will, in any event, begin issuing $5.2 billion in other state and federal pass-through dollars, Smith said, citing as an example federal nutrition grants. [[419186634, C]]

That money, said Tony Sanders, CEO of the Elgin U-46 school district, the state's largest outside of Chicago, is "not a whole lot of help," and the state still owes the district $18 million from last year.

"We would work to stay open all year, but it would require our board to make difficult decisions regarding cuts and borrowing," Sanders said.

Chicago schools CEO Forrest Claypool announced Thursday that the nation's third-largest district will be open for a full academic year.

The aim of the evidence-based formula ensures no district receives less than it did last year. That includes a $250 million grant for Chicago, added in 1995. It also adds money to pay for the Chicago district's portion of teacher pension costs, like it does for every other district. The Senate approved the plan May 31 but Assistant Senate Majority Leader Donne Trotter, a Chicago Democrat, held onto it. Trotter did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Rauner says the Chicago pension issue should be dealt with separately. He contends he'll slash the $250 million grant Chicago in an amendatory veto.

He's released a list boasting a cut of $145 million to Chicago and new cash of as much as several million dollars for districts elsewhere. But he won't discuss the number-crunching behind it.

Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, said in a statement that Rauner should show his hand.

"Rather than expensive special sessions and conflict-driving vetoes, let's have a meeting so we can see what the governor's plan is," Cullerton said. "It can be as simple as that."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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