Gov. Bruce Rauner has little to nothing to show for his first two years in office.
A backlog of unpaid bills has run up to $14.7 billion, public universities are teetering on the edge of losing accreditation, and a state budget finally became law on Thursday — it’s about time — but only after the Legislature overrode the governor’s ill-considered veto.
But Rauner, whose strong personal support for public schools goes back years, fancies himself an “education governor.” And, if so, he has a grand opportunity — right now — to score a big win for his administration while doing right by the poorest and least fortunate children in Illinois.
A major piece of legislation headed to the governor’s desk would create a new funding formula for the state’s public schools. Based on what’s called an “evidence-based model,” the new formula would begin to tear down a huge and historic financial divide between schools that serve wealthy or middle-class children and those that serve poorer kids. The current school aid formula is the most inequitable in the nation.
If the governor vetoes this bill, Senate Bill 1 — and if the Legislature cannot muster the votes to override his veto — schools across the state may not open in the fall. Education funding in the new state budget is tied to passage of an evidence-based funding formula, such as Senate Bill 1. But if the governor signs the bill, he will cement a legacy, even if he does nothing more.
The governor has said time and again that the current school aid formula is horribly wrong — now he can fix it.
Senate Bill 1 delivers changes a bipartisan commission led by Rauner’s education secretary, Beth Purvis, urged the legislature to make earlier this year. Last month, Purvis told the Springfield State-Journal Register the governor supports “90 percent” of the bill but was prepared to veto it because it gives too much to Chicago Public Schools. The governor since has repeated that threat.
“If you can get 90 percent in politics, you take it and do a victory dance,” we wrote in a subsequent editorial.
We sure hope the governor can see his way clear to grabbing a win.
Republicans have drafted their own new funding formula, one that looks a lot like SB 1. The big difference is that the GOP bill would give $200 million less to the Chicago Public Schools, making CPS, which serves mostly low-income families, the sole loser under this plan.
We favor SB 1 because it creates no losers. Funding levels for all school districts during the 2016-17 school year would become the floor for the upcoming school year. Additional funding — $350 million — included in the budget approved Thursday would go to schools that need more resources to educate poorer kids and students with special needs.
“We have it funded and prioritized,” Sen. Andy Manar, SB 1 sponsor, told us. “We have all the things people said we’d never get, including the revenue to pay for it.”
Rauner has called Manar’s bill a “bailout” of CPS. That has fanned flames for Republicans to nix it. But the governor fails to mention that SB 1 also would provide an enormous lift to many schools in the suburbs and in downstate communities such as Centralia, Prairie Du Rocher, Rantoul and Vienna.
Illinois’ new budget includes a hike in the personal income tax rate to 4.95 percent from 3.75 percent. That’s the bad news. But social services agencies can get back in business, universities can get back on a firm footing, and 20,000 workers can get back to work in road construction.
Illinois still has a long way to go. Even after passing a budget, the state still must deal with serious problems, some of them identified by the governor. The state budget does not resolve the problem of massively underfunded pensions, pay off entirely the state’s backlog of old bills or give people property-tax relief.
There is so much more to do. Passing a budget was nothing more than a long overdue first step.
And if the governor can see a win when it’s staring him in the face, he’ll sign Senate Bill 1.
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