Our View: Focus on school funding, not political theater – Opinion – The State Journal-Register


Weren’t we just here? Wasn’t Illinois facing an issue about state funding and lawmakers couldn’t agree on a way forward? Didn’t that result in possible irreparable harm to the state and a stack of unpaid bills that topped $15 billion?

Illinois may have a state budget but still a financial crisis looms over us, as the spending plan approved July 6 included a provision that K-12 funding be distributed through an evidence-based model. Illinois doesn’t have that, but it would under Senate Bill 1. Other proposed measures also use that type of model, but none were passed by both chambers of the legislature.

SB 1 was approved back in May but has yet to be sent to the governor for consideration. Democrats in the Senate initially said they put a procedural hold on SB 1 so Rauner wouldn’t immediately veto it. That didn’t work, and it’s time to stop the political posturing and get working on a solution. 

Rauner spent last week traveling throughout Illinois to discuss his intent to issue an amendatory veto of SB 1. On Friday, he told the SJ-R editorial board that Democrats, led by House Speaker Michael Madigan, want to create a crisis by waiting until August to send him the bill. He said he would call a special session of the General Assembly if he wasn’t sent SB 1 by noon Monday.

Senate President John Cullerton countered that, instead of calling an expensive special session, the governor should meet with legislative leaders to discuss the changes he wants and seek an agreement.

There isn’t time for this. K-12 education cannot become the newest battleground for partisan politics. Not that it was acceptable when those fights were (figuratively) occurring at our universities, community colleges, businesses and human service agencies during the two-year budget impasse. But many of them managed to limp along. With no mechanism in place to dole out education funding, it’s possible some schools will not be able to open their doors for the 2017-18 academic year, which starts in mid-August for some districts.

It’s maddening because Democrats and Republicans agree that a new formula should direct more money to the neediest kids in the state’s poorest districts, hopefully propelling us above the sad distinction of having the most inequitable K-12 education funding in the country.

The sticking point is Chicago. Rauner and many Republicans believe SB 1 would provide too much money to Chicago Public Schools at the expense of other poor districts. Rauner has called the funding CPS would get under SB 1 a bailout of that district’s pension funds, and told the SJ-R editorial board he would have signed the measure if the caveat that funneled the additional money to CPS had not been added to the bill at the last minute in the House.

There’s no doubt CPS has mismanaged its finances. Reform is absolutely needed there. But the sins of adults should not be paid for by today’s schoolchildren. And education funding reform should not be portrayed as Chicago against the rest of the state.

After Rauner asked for the bill by Monday, Cullerton’s office noted that once the governor vetoes the measure, there’s only 15 days to act or the measure dies. He’d prefer to avoid a standoff and negotiate an agreement first.

A leaders meeting first to hammer out an agreement, followed by as few legislative days as possible to approve whatever changes are needed, would be ideal. There’s no reason the governor couldn’t lay out the specifics of the changes he seeks.

Unfortunately, we’re skeptical anything would come of it, as history reminds us repeated meetings between the governor and four legislative leaders did not lead to a breakthrough during the state budget impasse. Given that SB 1 passed more than six weeks ago, there’s been plenty of time to meet on it. Granted, it didn’t become necessary until the evidence-based funding provision was slipped into the budget bills in an attempt to force a decision on school money. The political games never end.

We’d be delighted to see the leaders and governor come together. We reiterate our preference that lawmakers compromise on two bills: One that addresses school funding, the other pension reform.

Whatever avenue they pursue, it needs to happen now. Our kids can’t wait.

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