Suburban, downstate families shouldn't pay for Chicago's mess

“No matter how this session unfolds, send that education bill to my desk — CLEAN — NO GAMES — and I'll sign it immediately,” — Governor Bruce Rauner, February 17, 2016

“Before we appropriate money for education for next year, (which) starts July 1, we have to fix this formula,” — Senate President John Cullerton, January 25, 2016

Since taking office, I've made educating all children in Illinois my top priority. Since February, I've called on the General Assembly to pass a clean education funding bill to ensure our schools open on time this fall with full funding for the first time in seven years.

Unfortunately, Democratic leaders adjourned on May 31st without enacting a balanced budget, leaving children, parents and teachers across the state wondering if schools will open on time.

The good news is that reasonable, fair solutions are being offered. GOP Leaders introduced a clean, stand-alone education bill that puts our children first by increasing school funding by $240 million. The proposal increases early childhood education by $75 million. It ends an arcane process called “proration” that results in cuts to education spending. It ensures the vast majority of schools in Illinois get more money this year than they did last year while no school district receives less.

So why would anyone delay passing such a reasonable bill into law? As the Senate president told us months ago, Democrats want to hold up funding for schools to change the school funding formula they created.

Democrats want to force suburban and downstate taxpayers to bailout CPS from years of financial mismanagement and declining student enrollment — to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

It's important to note Illinois' current school funding formula, updated by Democrats in 2003, is based on three factors: the number of students enrolled, the number of students enrolled who are living in poverty, and local property values. In the current formula, every school sees an annual increase or reduction in state aid because of those ever-changing factors.

CPS has received less money six times out of the last 10 years because of its major drops in enrollment. It's only now the district and Democrats are sounding the alarm and blocking the passage of a school funding bill because CPS has hit a wall after years of reckless deficit spending.

The school funding formula needs reform, but there is a lack of consensus within the General Assembly and across school districts on how to do this. This also comes after the Democrats reduced overall state support for schools four times in the last 10 years.

To hold districts hostage in an attempt to sneak in a new school funding formula that will disproportionately send more money to CPS will not solve our inequitable funding formula for the long term.

The Democratic proposals to change the funding formula would cost hundreds of millions of extra dollars Illinois cannot afford right now. In order to pay for the formula they propose, we would need to enact structural reforms that save taxpayers money; otherwise we are forcing a tax hike on hardworking Illinois families. Democrats have refused time and again to enact reforms, and I will not agree to a tax hike without reforms.

Our proposal adds $240 million to the PK-12 education budget the Democrats passed last year, fully funds the foundation level and ensures no school loses a dime. It's already a historic investment in our schools and one Illinois can afford. It is disappointing that Democrats are resistant to passing HB6583/SB3434. If super majority Democrats are truly invested in our children and want to see schools open in the fall, they should send this bill to my desk without delay.

Bruce Rauner is Republican governor of Illinois.

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