Rauner to push education funding in budget address — and apart from budget

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Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly in the House chambers at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield in January. File Photo. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

When Governor Bruce Rauner presents his budget Wednesday to the Illinois General Assembly — including many skeptical Democrats — he plans to place some of his focus on restoring state aid for early childhood and K-12 education.

And apparently ready for the budget impasse to drag on, the governor is already looking at funding education through an appropriation separate from the overall budget — as he and the Legislature did last year.

Rauner’s budget will propose to fully fund the General State Aid foundation level for the first time in seven years.

General State Aid represents 66 percent of General Funds grants provided by the state to school districts, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.

“We must make the education of our children our top priority. The one thing I won’t back down on – the one thing that’s non-negotiable for me – is increasing education funding,” Rauner plans to say, according to prepared remarks provided by the governor’s office.

Rauner will talk about his support for a “standalone” appropriations bill for early childhood and K-12 schools, which will be introduced by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno.

Rauner’s budget for early childhood education would increase state support by $75 million. The $393 million his budget will propose for investing in early childhood education would also ensure school openings aren’t delayed in the fall, according to his administration.

In at least two references, he will ask for the education bill to come to his desk “clean, no games,” according to remarks. And he’ll pledge to sign the Republican-sponsored education bill.

Rauner will vow to make the school funding formula a priority: “To achieve formula changes, we must increase state support for education so that no community sees state funding taken away during the transition. I pledge to work with you on this issue to find a bipartisan way forward. But much like our larger discussion about the budget and reforms in the days ahead, nothing should delay the General Assembly from funding early childhood education and K-12 schools for the coming fiscal year.”

Last year during his inaugural budget address, Rauner stressed reforms to state government will take time.

“Because the task before us is so large, all our challenges cannot be solved by a single budget. It will take time to restore Illinois to fiscal health. Now is the time to start on a responsible path after years of financial recklessness. Instilling discipline is not easy, saying ‘no’ is not popular —but it is now or never for Illinois. It is make or break time. Before we can address next year’s budget, we must first solve the current year’s crisis,” Rauner said during his budget address in February 2015.

The state has been running without a budget since last July. The impasse has largely affected social service agencies and most recently, public universities.

But last June, the governor signed into law a separate House bill that provided funding for elementary and secondary schools, ensuring that schools remained open and avoiding a political trap for himself as the budget clash festered.

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