Rauner accuses Dem lawmakers of holding schools ‘hostage’

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters outside the Illinois State Capitol recently. | AP

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday accused Illinois lawmakers of holding schools hostage by demanding an immediate school funding formula change — suggesting they should continue to work on a “grand compromise” budget first, with reforms that he’ll support.

“This year they’re screaming and saying, ‘It’s gotta change this year and it can’t go further.’ And they’ve threatened to hold up school funding and school openings in the fall for a new school funding formula,” Rauner said while visiting Lyons Township High School in La Grange. “That’s wrong. Our schools shouldn’t be held hostage. We’ve got to put more money in schools while we continue to work on a bipartisan basis to come up with a school funding formula change.”

But Senate President John Cullerton quickly shot back at the governor’s claims, pointing the finger at a school funding plan the governor favors — which he released in April and which increases overall state aid but stiffs Chicago because of its lower enrollment numbers. Rauner’s plan would fully fund the foundation level and end the practice of proration.

Cullerton voiced support for a school funding bill proposed by State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill.

“Gov. Rauner said in his budget speech that no schools should lose funding, and yet more than one-third of the school districts in Illinois lose money under his plan. He would force schools across Illinois to slash services and staff. Some might not be able to open or stay open next year,” Cullerton said in a statement. “Chicago schools alone lose $74 million. Governor Rauner’s plan cuts funding for schools in East St. Louis and Naperville as well. That’s not acceptable. Our students deserve better.”

Cullerton, however, said he’s encouraged that Rauner and Republicans are recognizing the funding system needs a major change.

“They said they want a system that recognizes the needs of rural and low-income communities,” he said. “Lucky for them, that plan is pending in the Illinois Senate and they will soon get the chance to vote for it.”

During his school visit on Monday, Rauner said Manar’s bill would result in large hits to school districts around the state.

“That would make me uncomfortable,” Rauner said, adding he is still studying Manar’s bill.

“I don’t want Sen. Manar to give up. We should keep working together. Democrats and Republicans should keep working together on a school funding transformation of the state,” he said.

Rauner again blamed Democrats for the lack of state aid for Chicago schools — placing blame on the lack of aid for CPS on its lower student enrollment caused by cost of living, violence and school quality. He also said he supports charter schools as a way for donors to help relieve taxpayer pressure to build schools.

Also at Lyons, Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called Manar’s bill a “true bailout” of Chicago — detailing that Lyons Township would lose $1.9 million in his bill, while Chicago Public Schools would get an extra $375 million than the previous year.

“Let’s go back to the drawing board. Let’s start working on it again, but to suggest that this is a condition of a budget that is going to fund K-12, I think [it] is irresponsible for them to say that has to be done first. And I think that the public isn’t going to accept that either,” Durkin said.

Despite the Illinois State Board of Education last week revealing CPS isn’t in bad enough shape for a state takeover, Rauner said on Monday that bankruptcy should still be an option.

“Chicago should have that option for itself in the school system, and I believe all school districts across the state should have that as an option,” Rauner said.

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