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Rahm Emanuel won’t say where he’ll find $269M to balance school budget

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (left) and Gov. Bruce Rauner | File photos

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday refused to say where a cash-strapped city grappling with its own sizeable shortfall will find $269 million to balance the Chicago Public Schools budget.

Now that the Illinois Senate has voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a school funding bill, attention has turned to the House, where there are only 67 Democrats and 71 votes are needed to override the governor.

That’s where Emanuel wants the focus to remain—even though the budget framework unveiled by CPS last Friday defines the size of the hole that must be filled by City Hall.

Aldermen who have already walked the tax plank repeatedly to solve the city’s $30 billion pension crisis want to know what additional taxes they may be asked to raise as they prepare to seek re-election.

But until the school funding drama plays out in Springfield, they will just have to wait.

“It’s been a 20-year effort to get to this point—to re-write the worst education funding formula in the United States of America….It treats poor kids and kids of color as second-class citizens in the state when it comes to education,” the mayor said.

“I’m not gonna lay out a position that would do anything to undermine our position as we are trying to actually get and finally treat the children of the city of Chicago—like other poor kids across the state—fairly and equitably.”

The mayor’s unprecedented commitment to put the Chicago Public Schools on solid financial footing comes at a time when the city faces a $114.2 million budget shortfall of its own in 2018 that does not factor in the steep cost of police reform, the second year of a police hiring surge or pay raises tied to soon-to-be-negotiated union contracts.

Emanuel has already promised to seek City Council approval for a 28 percent increase in the monthly tax tacked onto Chicago telephone bills—both cell phones and land lines–to free up money to shore up the Laborers Pension fund well into the next decade.

The mayor is also considering raising taxes on downtown businesses, high net-worth individuals or both to preserve his vaunted longer school day and school year no matter what happens in Springfield.

If the override vote fails in the House, the only alternative will be to negotiate a new school funding bill. In those back-up negotiations, Rauner has demanded that vouchers be on the table.

Last week, Emanuel dodged questions on school vouchers, leaving reporters to wonder about his position even as his latest batch of private emails showed Cardinal Blase Cupich lobbying the mayor on the subject.

On Monday, the mayor made his position on vouchers crystal clear.

“I’ve been asked this over my career both as a congressman and as a mayor. I have given the same answers when it comes to vouchers and tax credits all along. The answer is one answer: I’m opposed to it,” Emanuel said.

“My kids went to a private, faith-based school. Same school…that I happened to go to. And I don’t believe that anybody in the public arena should be subsidizing my decision and [wife] Amy’s decision to send our children to a school that not only teaches them fundamental things like reading, writing and math but also their own identity as Jews.”