Our View: First day of school shouldn’t be tainted by politics – but likely will be – Opinion – The State Journal-Register


The first school bells of the 2017-18 academic year are about to start ringing in earnest. In the Instagram-filtered dreams we conjure of what the first day of classes should be, area children sling backpacks over their shoulders and head out the door to catch the bus, high-five their friends and then settle in for a new year of filling their heads with knowledge from educators eager to impart wisdom.

But this year the images are tainted by the uncertainty of school funding. The end of summer and start of a new school year are always a bittersweet, emotional time. This year, political squabbling has been added to the equation, creating a problem that, as of right now, doesn’t appear to have a clear answer.

We might be able to offer a half-hearted chuckle at the irony of the problem if the possible outcomes weren’t so dire. During the 24 months Illinois didn’t have a full-year budget, general state aid for K-12 education was the one aspect of state government that was funded. The reverse is now true: There is a fiscal blueprint in place, but no money for schools. Only in Illinois.

Given that it took two years of suffering by social service agencies, universities and businesses to finally get a state budget, it’s understandable that any reasonable Illinoisan might fear a solution won’t be easily forthcoming for school funding either.

The budget approved July 6 mandated education funds be distributed through an evidence-based funding formula. Illinois doesn’t have that, but it would if Senate Bill 1 became law. Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto on it, drastically rewriting a measure that was the culmination of years of effort, debate and negotiations.

There’s plenty of political finger-pointing to go around as to how the state’s children became the victims in the latest partisan bickering match. House Speaker Michael Madigan added amendments to the bill at the last minute that would largely benefit Chicago Public Schools. The Democratic-controlled Senate sat on the bill for two months before sending it to Rauner. The governor, who initially said he would make minimal changes to the bill, instead drastically rewrote the measure, and hasn’t been able to share with any level of confidence what those alterations would mean for the state’s 850-plus school districts.

To the leaders we say: Stick a cork in it. There are legislators, like state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, who have spent years trying to overhaul the state’s inequitable school funding formula. Illinois is closer than it has ever been to this desperately-needed change, and politics as usual cannot be the cause of the derailment. A prolonged fight could mean schoolhouse doors throughout Illinois open for the first day only to shut in the coming weeks as financial resources dwindle.

Legislators from both chambers and parties — including Manar and state Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond — have been discussing possible compromises, which may be the best route lawmakers should pursue. We could find out Sunday if they agree: The Senate is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. to consider the governor’s amendatory veto. While we’re fairly confident the governor’s changes won’t be upheld, we’re not sure if an override is possible in both the Senate and House (which is scheduled to meet Wednesday). If it fails in either chamber, and the bill dies, Illinois can’t distribute education money. While elected officials may somehow be able to contort such a scenario into a political “win,” Illinois schoolchildren lose if that happens.

For parents and educators, that first day shouldn’t be tainted by Statehouse shenanigans. Focus instead on the excitement, nervousness and nostalgia that typically accompany the first day of school. Parents, help your kid pick out a great outfit, and wipe away tears (theirs and maybe your own) as they venture out the door. Teachers, warmly welcome your new charges into the next chapter of their educational journey.

And elected officials: Check out the social media accounts of your constituents. Parents will undoubtedly proudly post photos of this momentous occasion. Look at those kids, who don’t care about politics, and remember their futures depend on what you do next.

Source