Gov. Bruce Rauner’s attempts to give the Illinois Board of Education greater control over Chicago Public Schools hit a potential snag this week, with the state’s chief legal officer saying the board has no authority to interfere with CPS borrowing money.

“Specifically, the plain and unambiguous language … of the [Illinois] School Code draws a distinction between CPS and other school districts when it sets forth the state board’s powers to assist school districts in financial difficulties,” Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wrote in an opinion dated Thursday.

Madigan was responding to a question on the issue from Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie.

The state board can investigate the financial state of any school district in the state, including CPS. But rules requiring Illinois school districts to get state approval before taking on debt don’t apply to CPS, Madigan wrote.

“As a result, the state board may not preclude the Chicago Board [of Education] from establishing a line of credit unless the School Code is amended to grant the state board this authority,” Madigan wrote.

Earlier this year, after CPS borrowed $725 million by selling bonds carrying an extraordinarily high interest rate, Rauner said the state board of education has the ability to block CPS from entering into bad bond deals. Rauner also asked the board to investigate CPS’ finances.

“I hope that [blocking a bond issue] never becomes necessary, but we’ve got to be ready to take action and step in,” Rauner said at the time.

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool issued a statement saying Madigan’s opinion affirmed what he already knew.

“He [Rauner] clearly should put the issue to rest. The attorney general has simply confirmed what the clear language of the statute says, which is Chicago is independent. That the statutory provisions within this act that apply to other districts do not apply to the Chicago Public School System. And the attorney general just affirmed that plain language of that law, that that is in fact the law.”

Rauner has also said he wants the state board to take over control of the cash-strapped Chicago School system, although Democratic leaders in Springfield say the idea is a non-starter.

Contributing: Tina Sfondeles

Madigan Opinion