BROWN: School funding crisis needn’t become another standoff

SHARE BROWN: School funding crisis needn’t become another standoff

Gov. Bruce Rauner, center, calls on Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, to send Senate Bill 1 to his desk as he is surrounded by members of the Republican caucus during a news conference on the first day of a special session on education funding at the state Capitol last week. File Photo. (Justin Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

Now that Illinois Senate Democrats finally released their hold Monday on previously approved school funding legislation, it’s Gov. Bruce Rauner’s move in a high-stakes game of political chicken.

The stage is set for Rauner to follow through on a threat to amendatorily veto the Democrat-authored schools bill to remove what he is calling a Chicago bailout.

Despite pleas from education groups Monday urging Rauner to sign the legislation, I think everybody expects him to move forward with his veto, possibly as early as Tuesday.

When that happens, school districts across Illinois will be placed on a crisis footing, unsure of whether they will receive state aid payments that are supposed to be sent on August 10.


Without some funding mechanism in place by then, they won’t get the money, which will leave many districts scrambling for alternative plans to finance the scheduled opening of schools.

Some say Democrats planned it this way by using a procedural maneuver to keep the bill from Rauner for two months after it cleared both chambers.

Maybe so, but without a compromise agreement, Rauner’s veto was always going to leave us in this same spot.

The fact is this bill provides long sought reforms that make major strides to help poorer school districts across the state. It also helps Chicago by addressing the inequity of city taxpayers being the only ones in Illinois required to pay the employer’s share of teacher pension contributions. No school district loses money.

Seems like a fair deal to me, not to say it couldn’t be improved to make it more fair.

Once Rauner issues his veto, we’ll have a better sense of whether this is going to be another case of his way or the highway.

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It seems to me there are a couple of directions legislators could go from here.

They could come up with a compromise that Rauner can accept, or they can look for a compromise acceptable to enough Republicans legislators to help override Rauner’s veto.

With Democrats controlling the necessary three-fifths majority of 36 votes needed for an override in the Senate, the emphasis has been on rounding up override votes in the House, where there are only 67 Democrats — four short of the 71 needed for an override.

The measure received only 60 votes when it first passed the House, but if another five or six Democrats switched their votes to yes, they would need only five or six Republicans to join them.

So far, however, Republicans are rallying behind Rauner and showing no signs of a repeat of the state budget and income tax hike votes when GOP members helped override the governor.

A major sticking point is how to deal with Chicago Public Schools’ unfunded teacher pension liability.

On top of directing $221 million annually to CPS to help cover the “normal cost” of its annual pension contribution, Senate Bill 1 would give CPS a credit for money it will need to spend in the future to make up for the district’s past failures to make timely payments.

Republicans think the credit for these “legacy costs” is unfair because it would increase the amount of money CPS would receive through the school aid formula — at the expense of other schools.

They also don’t think CPS’ normal pension costs should be handled through the school formula, although some believe they might be amenable to separate legislation that would still get the $221 million to CPS.

I have heard no serious discussion of the other alternative: approving Rauner’s amendatory veto over the objections of the Democratic majority.

If lawmakers don’t either override or approve Rauner’s veto with 15 days, the legislation is dead, and they’ll have to start over.

So far, no school district has said it won’t be able to open without its state aid payment, but many say they would run out of money within weeks or months.

It doesn’t need to come to that.

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