Rauner's plan would change education funding formula

  • Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, left, is running for re-election against Republican Bruce Rauner.

    Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, left, is running for re-election against Republican Bruce Rauner.

 
Associated Press
Updated 9/8/2014 6:40 PM

The debate over education took the spotlight in Illinois governor's race Monday, with Republican Bruce Rauner proposing overhauls to teacher tenure and the state's school funding formula, which Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's running mate called "reckless."

Rauner's 26-page education plan, laced with statistics and graphs, was short on specifics of how the venture capitalist would proceed with his ideas or what exactly he wanted to do. He called for an overhaul of how the state doles out money to school districts -- a contentious issue in Illinois -- but didn't say what should be in the funding formula. His plan called for changing the way Illinois schools grant tenure and cited a Florida practice allowing annual contracts, but Rauner said he wouldn't do away with tenure completely.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The state government in Springfield is hostile to school reform," Rauner said a news conference with his wife, Diana Rauner, who runs the nonprofit education Ounce of Prevention Fund. "We've got a system rigged to protect the bureaucracy of the school system rather than set up to advance the agenda of kids and their parents."

Rauner and Quinn are locked in one of the most competitive governor's races nationwide and education has come up often.

Quinn's running mate is former Chicago Public School's CEO Paul Vallas, who's also led school districts in Pennsylvania, Louisiana and Connecticut.

Vallas blasted Rauner's plan, saying it would lead to larger classroom sizes and higher property taxes. He's previously estimated Rauner's proposal to ditch a temporary state income tax increase next year would cost public schools billions and lead to massive teacher layoffs.

"This is reckless and irresponsible," Vallas said in a statement.

Other ideas in Rauner's blueprint included teacher merit pay, lifting the charter schools cap, looking at consolidating school-related agencies and tax credits for teachers who spend money on school supplies and businesses that donate to scholarships for low-income students.

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Rauner's campaign didn't provide a cost estimate on the plan, saying some ideas such as the tax credits were "revenue neutral." However, Rauner vowed to increase education spending, even in the first year of office, without extending the temporary tax increase or raising property taxes.

He said his policies would help Illinois' economy grow so much that additional revenue would come in from new jobs and, combined with other steps such as eliminating waste in state government, Illinois would be able to close a budget hole. Rauner -- who with his wife has long given to education causes -- said his blueprint would give teachers, particularly at high-performing schools, more freedom.

Still, teachers groups were skeptical, questioning whether Rauner's plan would strip teachers of rights.

"Bruce Rauner's blueprint reads like a Greatest Hits of failed education experiments that penalize good teachers instead of addressing the fact that Illinois schools are some of the worst funded in the nation," Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery said in a statement.

Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, is seeking a full second term in November. Rauner, of Winnetka, is seeking public office for the first time.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has been meeting with fellow lawmakers about plans to change which school districts get how much state money, a debate that has been raging in Springfield for decades. Supporters want poorer schools to get more money from the state, but that drastically could cut how much wealthier districts in the suburbs get.

Officials in poorer districts are particularly worried about what might happen if the state loses money generated by the state's 2011 income tax hike, which is set to drop in more than half at the end of the year.

"With the specter of additional dollars going away, and that's a very, very real specter, there has to be a way to allocate money to the districts most in need," said Rep. Frank Mautino, Madigan's point person on budget issues.

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