Rauner: Help poor schools but don't cut from others

Mired in a budget feud that has dominated his first year in office, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner Wednesday sought to use an ongoing push to change how the state pays for public schools as a way to find common ground with Democrats.

In his second State of the State address, Rauner cited Illinois' decades-long fight over school funding as part of a 10-point education plan that could be a focus of his second year in office.

Rauner specifically pointed to working with Democratic Senate President John Cullerton "to significantly increase state support for education, focusing our additional resources more on low-income and rural school districts so we can provide high-quality classrooms in every community, without taking money away from any other districts."

Achieving that goal could be difficult. It could mean finding more state money at a time when lawmakers and Rauner haven't finished a budget that was due in June.

"I think the governor absolutely extended an olive branch on education," said State Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican.

Murphy said Rauner made an important point for suburban lawmakers of both parties by saying no school district should lose state money. State Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat, agreed.

"Until that can be achieved, I don't know how you could just take money from DuPage County and distribute it through the rest of the state," he said.

Though Rauner isn't set to deliver a new budget plan until late February, the state's spending stalemate loomed over his speech Wednesday, even among members of his own party.

State Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, said the most important move the state could make for schools - particularly colleges and universities that have gone without money since July 1 - is to finish a budget.

"The deficit's going to increase, people are going to get hurt, college students are not going to get their funding," McSweeney said.

Other education points Rauner made in his State of the State speech referenced previous efforts, including trying to get universities to cut administrative costs and giving local school districts more power over collective bargaining, an idea Democrats have decried as anti-union.

Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery called Rauner's school plans a "hit parade of toxic ideas."

Rauner also addressed the sometimes-controversial new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers standardized test, saying the state should "develop a comprehensive, consistent, objective student growth measure, not necessarily based on the PARCC system, so we can track our students' progress in each grade toward college or career."

The governor's office didn't respond to a request for more details.

State Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, said Rauner seemed to take a less aggressive approach than last year's speech.

"It's not what you say. It's what you do," Crespo said.

Despite money being approved last summer for elementary and secondary education, colleges and universities have not seen any state money since July 1.

Hours after Gov. Rauner spoke, lawmakers sent legislation to the House floor that would spend $397 million for the Monetary Assistance Program, a scholarship program for low-income students, and for operating expenses at community colleges.

Democrats and Republicans split over the plan, with Democrats in favor, so the proposal still faces hurdles to becoming law.

• Daily Herald staff writer Mary Hansen contributed to this story.

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