Rauner: Suburban schools shouldn't suffer to help Chicago schools
Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday continued his push for school funding, telling students and faculty at Lakes Community High School in Lake Villa they shouldn't suffer because Democrats want more money for Chicago Public Schools.
"We cannot let the General Assembly hold up school funding, hold up our schools opening in the fall to get a Chicago schools bailout," he said.
Rauner shared a similar message later at Lyons Township High School in LaGrange, adding he wants schools to be fully funded at their per-student "foundation" levels. Bills introduced in February by Republican leaders would fully fund schools for the upcoming school year.
But Senate President John J. Cullerton, a Democrat, said in a statement Rauner's plans wouldn't work as schools would be forced to slash services and staff levels, and some might not be able to open or stay open. More than a third of Illinois' school districts would lose money under Rauner's plan, Cullerton continued, with Chicago schools losing $74 million.
"I am encouraged that the governor and Republicans recognize the current system's failings," the statement read. "They said they want a system that recognizes the needs of rural and low-income communities. Lucky for them, that plan is pending in the Illinois Senate and they will soon get the chance to vote for it."
Worry over how the ongoing budget war could affect schools next fall could steer negotiations in the coming months.
Last year, Rauner signed the Democrats' education budget even though his fellow Republicans in the Capitol voted against it, allowing schools to open in the fall.
It's unclear how the fight will play out this time, but Rauner has called for a "clean" schools budget at the same time some top Democrats insist there be a change to how Illinois hands out state money in an effort to benefit less wealthy districts.
During his tour of Lakes High, Rauner lauded it as an outstanding school and told students they were role models. He listened to a studio theater student deliver an emotional poem about family, viewed student art displayed in the commons area and visited a chemistry class before speaking to an assembly of more than 300 students.
He gave them a brief overview of his background as a venture capitalist, and he said schools are his top priority and that cuts in school funding were wrong. He also said the state needs to be run more like a business and stressed that an improved economy would benefit schools.
After the assembly, where he also answered some questions regarding medical marijuana and the budget, Rauner got to the meat of his arguments for assembled media.
"Even though we're the last state in America for state support, the Democrats have cut school general state aid four times the last 10 years. That's unfair. That's wrong," he said.
Rauner took aim at the Chicago Public Schools and said the system has been financially mismanaged for decades, shirks teacher pension payments and has ingrained patronage and cronyism.
"They need to change their system. They have to change the way they spend money," he said. "They can't try to force districts like this to take less so Chicago can get more. That is not correct, we're not going to allow that to happen. That's our primary message here today."
Rauner also pointed to the gulf in the state's ongoing budget battle, where he said Democrats want to spend $37 billion while the state takes in a little more than $32 billion.
"We can argue about that. But we bring in $32 billion and the first place that money should go is to support our teachers and our schools and make sure our schools open on time. Nothing is more important than that," Rauner said.
He said a bill has been introduced to fund schools separately at 100 percent of the per-student "foundation level," which hasn't been the situation for seven years. Funding less than 100 percent is known as proration, he continued, and "disproportionately hurts low-income districts and more rural districts."
"I don't want any more proration," Rauner said. "Go to the foundation level this year and then next year go beyond the foundation level."
State Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill, is pushing a school funding formula overhaul he said could help lead toward a budget solution and intends to have it called for a vote this week. Manar said Rauner's claim that the plan would hurt schools in suburban Chicago and is a "bailout" for Chicago Public Schools is not true, saying his plan is more fair because it treats CPS the same as other school districts by covering teacher pension costs.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.