Lawmakers end session with no school funding
Republicans and Democrats who've spent months trading both bitter insults and competing ideas to fund Illinois schools blew a budget deadline late Tuesday and departed Springfield with no agreed-upon plan to pay for education this fall.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner deemed the five-month legislative session a "stunning failure." He asked Democrats to approve a stopgap education budget in the hours before Tuesday's midnight deadline, but they didn't consider it, saying they'll meet in the coming weeks to continue talks.
Instead, Democrats in the House and Senate rejected each other's budget plans by large margins in the waning minutes before their midnight deadline, showing cracks in the party even among its top leaders about how to proceed as they continue to oppose some of the governor's top policy priorities.
Republicans voted against the proposals, too, saying at least one of the budget proposals was billions of dollars out of balance.
Schools were a focus, but Tuesday brought no budget for universities, colleges or social service program, either.
In the time Illinois has failed to approve a budget plans, several states around the U.S. have finished two.
Now, lawmakers could be called back next week. But they need a three-fifths vote to pass legislation they couldn't find simple majorities on. And they're pushing closer to the scheduled August start dates for most public schools.
Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said his schools would be able to open their doors in August but don't have enough cash in the bank to operate for more than a few months without state funds.
"For us, it would be devastating," he said.
The schools dispute is part of the greater, lengthy Illinois budget stalemate that has left some social services programs, colleges and universities short of state money since July 1, 2015.
Rauner is pointing the finger at majority Democrats, saying they've failed to pass a balanced budget or approve any of the pro-business changes he's pushed. He says Illinois is a financial wreck and "we need to change direction."
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton say Rauner is putting schools, social services and other state programs in jeopardy by insisting on legislation they say hurts the middle class.
Rauner's budget director Tim Nuding outlined the stopgap plan in a memo that became public less than 24 hours before lawmakers were scheduled to adjourn. It would give schools money without the same cuts imposed this year and ensure no district gets less money than last year.
It also would provide money for some social services like domestic violence shelters that have gone without funding as the historic budget stalemate has played out.
"It is designed as a bridge plan that allows schools to open, keeps the lights on, protects public safety and prevents a government shutdown," Nuding wrote.
But while Democrats who control the Illinois House and Senate didn't completely reject Rauner's Hail Mary pass of a budget plan, they didn't act on it Tuesday. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called the idea Democrats couldn't move quickly "laughable."
"You've seen how they've been able to move mountains in matters of minutes," Durkin said.
At least seven distinct school funding proposals have been put before lawmakers this year, many part of an ongoing effort to try to send more state money to less wealthy school districts.
Despite the number of plans, not one has gained widespread or bipartisan support, so they all remain stalled for now.
The proposals have divided suburban schools as more wealthy districts might see their state funding cut back sharply under some of the proposals while other districts would get more money.
An East Aurora District 131 spokesman says schools could open in August but perhaps only for a few months without a state education budget. East Aurora and U46 both have pushed hard in recent weeks for a change in how the state divides up its school money.
"It's difficult, but it's not unusual for a district," District 131 spokesman Matt Hanley said of the state budget uncertainty. "That's the position we end up being in every year."
• The Associated Press contributed to this story.