CPS says Rauner can’t nix its pension money in new school funding bill

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Gov. Bruce Rauner | AP Photo/G-Jun Yam

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner demanded that the Democratic Senate leader send him a school funding reform bill immediately — so he can immediately delete the part of it that sends some $220 million to Chicago Public Schools for teacher pensions.

The broke schools system immediately decried such an “amendatory veto” as an overstep of the governor’s power.

Senate Bill 1 has passed both Houses and still awaits the governor’s signature but Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) hasn’t yet sent it to him.

The legislation, which had bipartisan support as well as the blessing of school superintendents across the state, rewrote the state’s school funding formula to benefit districts educating mostly low-income students. CPS, the only district in the state that funds teacher pensions from local tax revenue instead of state contributions, would get about $300 million total.

The long-awaited budget deal reached last month only after the House overrode Rauner’s veto, requires a school funding bill to allocate state money to school districts, many of which are counting on state money to open within the month.

“Why are they sittin’ on that bill? They want to threaten to to hold up school fundin’ so schools don’t open this fall to to try to force a pension bailout for the city of Chicago on the backs of Illinois taxpayers,” Rauner said Monday while touring downstate Mount Zion.

“Send me that bill, send me that ed fundin’ bill now today,” he continued. “Don’t wait, don’t sit on it, don’t threaten to hold up schools openin’ don’t threaten our teachers, don’t threaten our students with your extortion tactics that you’ve been usin’ for years against the people of Illinois. (House) Speaker (Michael Madigan, President Cullerton, stop it.”

CPS officials have denied the bill is a “CPS bailout” since it provides 268 Illinois districts with more money than CPS stands to receive and was designed to dole out money more equitably.

“Governor Rauner’s stunt won’t pass legal muster, and instead jeopardizes the opening for dozens of school districts around the state,” CPS spokeswoman Emily Bittner said. She pointed to an Illinois Supreme Court ruling limiting an amendatory veto to making “specific recommendation for change” and barring the tactic from changing the the “fundamental purpose/intent of the legislation” or making “substantial or expansive” changes to it.

Rauner spokeswoman Laurel Patrick defended Rauner’s threat, saying only that the Illinois constitution “clearly indicates that the Governor has the power to “return a bill together with specific recommendations for change” to the legislature.

Meanwhile in budgets it’ll present to principals later this week, CPS is assuming that the funding contained in SB1 will come through. It’s the third year in a row the broke district is banking on money not yet in hand, but officials said the alternative was to send devastating budgets to schools without the extra $300 million.

CPS doesn’t open for classes until after Labor Day. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has joined district leaders in assuring parents that school will start on time.

Mayoral spokesman Matt McGrath said that “Not only does SB1 increase funding for school districts across Illinois and finally begin to close the state’s worst-in-the-nation funding gap between wealthy districts and poor ones, the bill lines up with the recommendations of the Governor’s own education commission and is 90 percent of what he wants, according to his own education point person. This is an opportunity to achieve a goal that has eluded governors of both parties for decades and do right by students across the state, not to exert leverage – and it’s unfortunate the governor once again seems inclined to pursue the political path rather than the productive one.”

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