Rauner wants to revamp school funding formula, not sure how

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Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner on Monday laid out an education blueprint that he said would bring more money to the state’s schools in his first year in office — even as the venture capitalist promised to hold the line on taxes.

As part of his proposal, Rauner called for an overhaul to the state’s school funding formula that relies heavily on property taxes — but said he hadn’t yet come up with a new formula. Rauner called for expanding charter schools, reforming teacher tenure in Illinois, and called for a $250 tax credit for teachers who spend their own money on school supplies.

“It is not fair to our children and our parents and our taxpayers if it’s virtually impossible or extremely costly and extremely difficult to remove an ineffective teacher from a school,” Rauner said.

Rauner was pressed on how he could increase education money while freezing property taxes, which right now make up the bulk of funding for local schools. Rauner vowed he would increase money in his first year in office — something at least one expert called “fantasy.”

“We will increase education funding in year one, yes, absolutely,” Rauner said. “Other programs will need to be cut,” he said, without specifying which ones.

“The tax code needs to be overhauled. We’ve outlined many of those initial steps in our plans in the next couple months. … We need to restructure state government. It’s going to take a little time,” Rauner said. “But it’s not fair to our children to make education the political football that’s going to be cut.”

He later added that freezing property taxes means the money was still there and that a Rauner administration would help local districts find ways to save money so that dollars are put back into their schools.

That promise rang hollow to at least one longtime Illinois government expert, who noted that the next governor faces a $6 billion budget hole, and any bid to increase revenue streams elsewhere would require the backing of a Democratic-controlled state Legislature.

“There’s no way to make the numbers work in the short term without either massive cuts or to shift to broad-based consumption taxes,” said University of Illinois at Springfield Political Science professor emeritus Kent Redfield.

“If you’ve got a deficit situation and you take out a huge source of revenue, then you can’t increase funding in one area without massive cuts to social services, higher education, mental health institutions … It’s just a fantasy to believe that this can be done and still maintain the basic level of services that we have.”

Rauner said he has pointed to ways to cut government waste in the past and to tax services. But Redfield said Rauner’s proposal to tax services was not broad enough to do all that he’s promising, in part because it excludes financial services.

“It’s a very narrow service tax that he’s proposing,” Redfield said. “If he could get it passed.”

Rauner held his news conference at the Ray Kroc Center on the city’s South Side, with his wife, Diana, and the Rev. James Meeks at his side.

Rauner addressed charter schools, saying there should be no cap on how many are allowed in the state but that underperforming charters should be shut down.

“Charter schools should be given an equal chance to compete with other public schools,” Rauner said. “We should have more opportunities for charter schools to compete and provide an alternative for parents who are may be dissatisfied with their school as their only sole option.”

Gov. Pat Quinn had laid out a five-year blueprint for education, and in his March budget address called on making a temporary income tax increase permanent, saying it was the only way to make sure education budgets weren’t slashed across the state. The Legislature rejected making that tax increase permanent.

Rauner has blasted Quinn for raising the state income tax — a temporary increase that will end early next year.

The state’s teachers union also blasted Rauner’s proposal, calling it the “Greatest Hits of failed education experiments,” while Quinn running mate Paul Vallas called the plan “reckless and irresponsible” and said it “predictably fails to pay” for any of his promises.

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