Democrat backs Rauner’s scholarship veto, but gov’s school list raises questions

SHARE Democrat backs Rauner’s scholarship veto, but gov’s school list raises questions

Gov. Bruce Rauner chats with Ebinger Elementary School students before signing education reform funding bill SB 1947 in August. File Photo. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

A West Side Democrat is urging fellow legislators to make the changes Gov. Bruce Rauner is seeking in a tax scholarship program for private schools, arguing that under the bill passed by the General Assembly “a lot of African-American schools are being cut out.”

But complicating Rauner’s amendatory veto fight is that among the list of private schools the Republican governor argues are being short-changed are a handful of public schools.

Rauner on Monday issued an amendatory veto of a trailer bill to a historic school funding measure, urging lawmakers to go back and fix the measure to allow three dozen private schools to more quickly take advantage of the tax credit scholarship program.

At issue for the new program that lets donors to private school scholarships take $75 million in tax credits is whether the schools that students seek to attend are registered with or recognized by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Registration is a simple exchange of basic information. Recognition requires at least a year’s registration, an application proffering the school’s safety plans and a site visit, according to the state board.

“Desired change would add at least 36 non-public schools — half of which serve African-American communities — to scholarship pool,” reads the top of Rauner’s press release touting the number of schools that merely registered with the state board.

The governor’s official amendatory veto message to the state Senate also argued that at least 36 schools would be excluded.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman provided the names of the schools. Among those counted were publicly-funded charter schools that don’t charge tuition, though they did serve mostly black Chicago Public Schools students: Prologue Schools, an organization that shuttered its alternative schools, and the Academy of Scholastic Achievement currently operated by Youth Connection Charter Schools.

But Rauner’s office later walked back the names, saying they came from an internal list of schools that reached out to the governor’s office and “is by no means a complete list.” Eventually a spokeswoman provided names of schools from the Illinois State Board of Education showing about 250 schools that weren’t recognized by the board in timeto acceptscholarships in thefall.

Eighteen of them were Roman Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Chicago that didn’t get recognized in time because of a clerical error, and it’s uncertain when they will be eligible,said archdiocesan spokeswoman Anne Maselli.

“We are unsure at this point if those 18 schools will be able to participate in the tax credit scholarship program,” she said.

The archdiocese’s remaining 196 schools are already eligible for the program.

Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, said he has been fighting since last year to allow more time to let schools be recognized. In a letter dated Dec. 21, Tony Smith, the state’s Superintendent for Education, wrote that while the state board “sympathized with schools that were caught off guard by the new law, the State Board of Education cannot exceed its statutory authority and allow non-recognized schools or schools that are ‘in-process of recognition’ to participate in the program.”

Smith also included recommendations to make the changes needed for schools to be recognized.

“Without a change in law, we can only provide support to schools seeking recognition status,” Smith wrote.

Ford said he did not vote on the Senate trailer bill.

“I didn’t vote because I asked at the time that we slow up and make sure that we were able to have a process in place so that the most needy students are able to receive the scholarships, and they refused to hold up,” Ford said.

Ford then filed a bill calling on a commission to come up with a process for the scholarships.

Ford said he is concerned that if the program continues with just the recognized schools, many students from other schools will be left out of the five-year pilot program.

“Hales Franciscan is a school that clearly should be on the list because they educate African-American males, and it’s a historic school. And that school is not part of the process. They can’t receive the donations,” Ford said “This law was supposed to be taking care of the families that need the scholarships most, and we find that a lot of African-American schools are being cut out. All of those schools were at the table so they were blindsided by the fact that they were not recognized and that they had to be in order to receive the benefits.”

Ford said he is drafting legislation and working with staff to make the changes Rauner is seeking.

Ford said he is in support of Rauner’s amendatory veto and will be pushing for the House to accept any changes. Since it’s a Senate measure, the Senate must first take up the amendatory when senators return to session on Jan. 30. It’s not yet clear what the state Senate will do with the veto.

Key school funding sponsor Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, on Monday accused Rauner of creating “absolute chaos while undoing all of the equity components in the school funding reform legislation that he takes credit for passing.”

The governor’s office on Tuesday said the goal of the amendatory veto was to “enhance the scholarship program,” and correct an “unintended error” in the school funding bill.

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