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Misstep Could Make School Funding Dispute Even Worse

Bruce Rauner
Seth Perlman
The Associated Press
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, seen here in 2016.

With schools set to open in just a few weeks, Illinois still doesn't have any way to send money to schools.

K-12 funding has become the latest partisan battleground at the statehouse, and Tuesday one procedural misstep may have inadvertently made the gridlock even worse.

Standing at a podium in his office, Gov. Bruce Rauner addressed a crowd of reporters. His staff had announced this press conference via email at 5 a.m. But the countdown leading up to it had begun much earlier.

For six weeks, Rauner had been demanding that Democrats send him their school funding bill so he could veto the parts he didn’t like. If it becomes law, Senate Bill 1 would mark a historic change in the way Illinois supports schools, replacing a decades-old formula that relies on property taxes with a new evidence-based plan. Rauner likes that part.

What he doesn’t like is the part he says gives too much money to Chicago Public Schools. Rauner said he would strip away this unfair advantage CPS enjoys; but he also said his plan would send CPS $200 million more than the district currently receives. Exactly how would that work? His staff said answers to that—and other questions—will be revealed later.

But perhaps the most urgent questions involved numbers that don’t have dollar signs—the number of votes needed to approve his changes.

Dave Dahl, from radio station WTAX, asked Rauner: What makes you think that three-fifths of the Illinois House and three-fifths of the Senate will agree on any particular thing here?

“Well, Dave, great question! Upholding my amendatory veto requires a simple majority," Rauner replied.

Other reporters chimed in to tell the governor the Supreme Court had ruled it would take a supermajority to approve or override his veto. The governor seemed to be caught off-guard.

“I acted exactly quickly, exactly as I laid out, exactly as the constitution sets," he said.

He quickly ended the press conference, leaving the issue of statewide school funding up in the air. Due to a clause in the budget, the state can’t send any money to school districts except through an evidence-based model.

“So then the question is: Governor, what’s your Plan B?" said state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill. "What are you going to do now? Because we are not going to accept the veto as written.”

Manar is the sponsor of SB1, his fourth try at a school funding overhaul in as many years. He’s also on the bipartisan team of negotiators that has been working to reach a compromise. And despite the veto, he sees no reason to stop.

“Maybe our route’s a little more difficult now, but in reality, we can pick up where we left off," he said.

New demands have reportedly crept into the conversation. Mandate relief, private school vouchers, collective bargaining units. Manar was reluctant to confirm or deny.

School districts expect their first installment of state funds on Aug. 10, just eight days away.

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