School leaders push against funding cuts ahead of Rauner speech
With Gov. Bruce Rauner set to deliver a new budget plan to lawmakers Wednesday, several suburban school leaders appeared in Springfield to urge state officials not to cut their funding.
Their testimony before a House committee Tuesday echoes a debate over how Illinois pays for schools that has raged for decades, with lawmakers trying to find a way to send more money to downstate and Chicago schools that often have less property wealth and spend less per student than in the suburbs.
Democratic Illinois Senate President John Cullerton has sought to make school funding changes a priority in the state's ongoing budget battle.
Schaumburg Elementary District 54 Superintendent Andrew DuRoss argued the state should spend more on education, enough to help schools that have less money without taking state resources away from suburban schools that have the means to spend more.
"Every student does deserve the same opportunity to succeed regardless of location or economic status," he said.
State Rep. Will Davis, a Homewood Democrat, pushed back, questioning the panel of suburban officials about their districts' wealth and their pitch that the state shouldn't approve legislation that would create "winners and losers" by taking money from some schools and giving it to others.
"I wish we could talk more about trying to do what's necessary to bring up the entire state," Davis said.
The debate over school funding could further complicate an already historic standoff among Rauner, the Republican lawmakers who have stood by him and the Democrats who say his agenda has held up a budget for more than eight months.
Sending money to schools with less local property wealth without taking it from other school districts likely would require more money, something that's in short supply in Springfield these days.
Rauner is set to give a speech Wednesday to present a new budget plan, and he has not said publicly what he plans to call for.
The sticking points in the Republican governor's battle with the Democrats haven't changed: He wants to overhaul term limits, change how legislative districts are drawn and curb union power. Democrats say what Rauner wants needs to be debated separately from the budget.
Here are some things to watch for in Rauner's budget address:
One question is whether lawmakers and the governor will create a two-year budget or handle each year -- this delayed year and the 2016-2017 fiscal year -- separately.
Rauner has not offered any hints on how he plans to proceed, but lawmakers involved in the budget-writing process have raised the possibility of having a two-year budget. They'll expect some direction from the governor when he gives his speech.
Whatever happens, Rauner emphasizes he's taking a long view but has divulged few details -- other than to say that he realizes the changes he wants will be hard to achieve.
"We're going to talk about the change that's needed so we can actually have truly balanced budgets in the future," he said last week. "That's what we're going to talk about."
Rauner has said in recent months he thinks the key is to get Illinois' finances out of the red.
Illinois faces a roughly $5 billion budget deficit this year and its unpaid bill backlog could reach almost $26 billion by 2020 if current revenue and spending policies continue.
One of Rauner's favorite talking points is that if Illinois' economy grew at the national average during the past 15 years, the state would have collected $19 billion more to invest on things such as schools and infrastructure.
"We've got to become a growth state -- pro-business, pro-agriculture, pro-investment. And we've got to shrink our wasteful spending and our bureaucracy," Rauner told the Illinois Pork Producers' meeting Tuesday.
Expect to hear that line again in his budget speech.
He's also used the same phrase to swipe at the individual income tax increase Democrats passed in 2011 and ended last year, saying that it would have been unnecessary if the state's economy was more robust.
Rauner has said he will consider tax increases, provided he gets the reforms he wants. But the governor also has said Illinois would have more money to invest in social service programs and higher education if it was run more efficiently.
Lately, he's unveiled plans he says will save money by consolidating Illinois' information technology departments and streamlining how the state buys goods and services. Rauner said that reducing the time it takes to buy products could save the state $514 million a year.
• The Associated Press contributed to this story. Follow our Springfield coverage on Twitter @dhstatehouse