If nothing else, come to the rescue of Illinois public schools

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Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool, center, speaks to school leaders, students, parents and community members from around the state during a rally for fair education funding in the rotunda at the state Capitol on Thursday in Springfield. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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If the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Rauner accomplish nothing else in these last frenetic days of the spring legislative session, they had better fund education — immediately and more fully — or many schools may not open this fall.

Nobody should hold school children hostage in a battle of political wills.

School funding could be included in a credible last-minute budget compromise, part of that elusive “grand bargain” between the Republican governor and the Democratic Legislature. Terrific. But if that doesn’t happen, which is likely, the Legislature should shepherd through a stand-alone school funding bill, something Rauner has indicated he’d be open to signing.

What’s no solution at all is the wildly out-of-whack state budget — some $7 billion short on revenue — shoved through the House by Democratic Speaker Mike Madigan late Wednesday. Rauner promised to veto the thing before the House even took a vote.

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A serious compromise budget, we are told, still could emerge, and we’d sure like to believe that.

Although Rauner has refused to sign a budget without first gaining approval for his union-weakening “turnaround agenda,” working groups of legislators continue to seek a middle ground. There might be room for a deal, perhaps something that would further reform workers compensation, tweak personal injury lawsuits, modify the prevailing wage requirement to exclude small projects, reform purchasing and tinker with collective bargaining.

But no one knows if Rauner would accept such a compromise — movement on his turnaround agenda could be relatively minor — and Madigan has dismissed the effort, saying Rauner is “not being real persuasive” in advancing his positions.

The unbalanced budget approved by the House late Wednesday would significantly increase school funding. It would funnel $700 million in additional revenue to the Chicago Public Schools and poorer school districts elsewhere in the state. That’s not the full reform of the school funding formula we believe is necessary, but it would get extra money now to school districts that need it.

CPS, for one, has “reached the point of no return,” says CEO Forrest Claypool. The district faces a $1 billion deficit next year. Even restoration of funding at last year’s level won’t be enough to avoid devastating teacher layoffs and other cuts.

One way or another — as part of a larger budget the governor might actually sign or as a stand-alone bill — the Legislature must come to the aide of our public schools. That is the priority.

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