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Rauner vows ‘swift action’ on education bill, then opts to sleep on it

Gov. Bruce Rauner, right, along with Illinois Senate Minority Leader, Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, center, at a news conference last week. File Photo. (Justin Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

Gov. Bruce Rauner vowed “swift action” late Monday on a long-awaited education funding bill he’s promised to veto, but then decided to sit on it overnight.

Senate Democrats met the Monday deadline the Republican governor has been demanding for a bill that would rewrite how state money is allocated for poor students and send pension money to the Chicago Public Schools.

But House Democrats accused Rauner of playing politics.

As a clock ticked Monday, state lawmakers were trying to negotiate changes to the bipartisan education spending plan in the hopes of settling the latest disagreement between the Democrat-controlled Legislature and the Republican governor before classes are set to resume within weeks.

Senate President John Cullerton’s office said after negotiating all weekend, Democrats met the Monday deadline to send to Rauner the bill passed in May.

“By merely signing his name the governor can deliver on his promise to overhaul the worst school funding system in the nation,” the North Side Democrat said. “I hope the governor will seize the opportunity. Do the right thing, Mr. Governor, sign the bill.”

The governor’s office said it’s about time — but made no promises about signing it.

“Democrats have been sitting on the education funding bill for two months, in effect holding our students hostage and threatening our public schools’ ability to open on time,” said Laurel Patrick, a Rauner spokeswoman. “The governor will now review the bill and take swift action.”

She later added, “I don’t anticipate action tonight.”

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Rauner has denounced Senate Bill 1 as a “bailout” because it also contains pension money for Chicago teachers.

State Sen. Andy Manar, original author of the bill, warned that a veto would jeopardize money for all of Illinois’ roughly 850 school districts. That’s because if legislators can’t muster enough votes to either approve or override the governor — scenarios that appear unlikely — the legislation dies, and there’s no ready back-up plan. A new funding formula is required for schools to get paid as part of the budget approved earlier this month.

The first payment to schools is due Aug. 10.

“We would rather not go to a veto showdown,” Manar said. “We would like to see a reasonable compromise with Gov. Rauner.”

House Speaker Mike Madigan said “the reform we need is being held back by a governor who is determined to pit one child against another for political gain.

“Democrats know that many legislative Republicans share our commitment to fair funding for all schools. We will work together on behalf of our children, our schools and our communities, even if the governor continues to choose chaos over compromise.”

Education advocacy groups joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel in urging against a Rauner veto.

“This is a four-decade-long effort to finally do what people for years have been talking about doing,” Emanuel said.

Contributing: Fran Spielman, Associated Press