Gov. Bruce Rauner has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by using his amendatory veto to pick a fight with Democrats in the state Legislature over school funding reform.

Rauner could have signed Senate Bill 1 and justly claimed it resulted from the governor’s own School Funding Reform Commission.

OPINION

That commission was the result of his campaign promise to improve school funding in Illinois, which by many measures is among the worst in the nation.

The final report of the Governor’s Commission begins, “The research surrounding Illinois’ disparity in student funding and student outcomes is alarming. While FY13 numbers show Illinois is 15th in the nation in average public school spending per pupil, there are only two states in the country with larger gaps between spending on the wealthiest versus the poorest school districts.”

The report continues, “On average, the state’s school districts with the greatest number of low-income students receive 20 percent less funding than the wealthiest districts. In addition, the most recent school report cards issued by the Illinois State Board of Education indicate that only one in three elementary school children performs on grade level in reading and math and that half of Illinois public high school graduates either do not go to college or need remediation upon enrollment.”

For decades, while the state picked up an ever smaller percentage of total school spending, property taxes soared to pick up the slack. As a result, about 67 percent of the total cost of public education in Illinois is now paid for by property taxes, with around 25 percent coming from the state.

Poor school districts lacking a commercial property base and with lower priced single-family homes ended up paying the highest property tax rates in Illinois, often for schools that were far below average.

Rauner acknowledged much of this and his commission verified it, resulting in Senate Bill 1, which pretty much followed the reforms recommended in the commission report.

But instead of declaring victory, the governor said he didn’t like a provision in the bill that targeted about $200 million for Chicago to help with its teacher pension crisis.

By striking down the Chicago funding, Rauner basically undermined his own school reform plan because Chicago legislators control the Illinois General Assembly.

More importantly, he lost sight of the real political goal here, which was to pass legislation which costs the state only a small amount of money, does little to help education, but can be used in re-election campaigns by politicians to demonstrate just how much they love our school children.

To quote from the final school funding commission report:

“At the time of writing this report, the amount of additional state money needed for all districts in Illinois to be at or above their adequacy target is estimated to be a minimum of $3.5 billion over the next decade.”

In fact, the report continues, for the state to do its fair share and fund 51 percent of the cost of education, it would need to come up with an addition $2.5 billion beyond that $3.5 billion, for a total of $6 billion.

No one in Springfield has a plan to do that.

Without a massive infusion of state dollars, the inequities inherent in school funding cannot be addressed long term and property taxes will continue to increase, causing a public backlash.

Poor children in Illinois get gimmicks, word games and double-talk from legislators, not a quality education. Rauner could have said that, but instead undermined his own flawed reform plan because, like all the other politicians, he simply doesn’t intend to spend the money needed to get the job done right.

Email: philkadner@gmail.com
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