Gov. Bruce Rauner has been drumming up opposition to the Democrats' new school funding plan, known as Senate Bill 1, by touting how much more money each district would receive under his plan. He points to Elgin U-46, the state’s second largest school district, as the biggest winner: That northwest suburban district would gain about $15 million if lawmakers approve Rauner’s amendatory veto.
So that district's CEO, Tony Sanders, must be rooting for Rauner's plan, right?
"Because it's one-year money,” Sanders says. “The other changes cause me significant concerns about future years. They're asking me to take an additional $12 million under the veto, to take those dollars in exchange for uncertainty in future years.”
Rauner's veto strips SB1’s adjustments for inflation, for higher salaries in suburbs like Elgin, and for property value school districts cannot access due to municipally-controlled development zones called TIFs, and county-wide tax caps known as PTELL. Beginning in July 2020, Rauner’s plan would also penalize districts with declining enrollment. Sanders — whose district enrollment figures have been trending downward for the past couple of years — says over the longterm, his district would lose more than it gains.
He said the figures Rauner is boasting about in public appearances (displayed on his website) remind him of TV commercials offering immediate money from annuities.
"I just don't want the general public to see the dollar amounts being flashed out and think, ‘Oh my gosh, we can get so much more with the amendatory veto,’ ” Sanders says. “Again, that's one year money, and it will go away."
Furthermore, Sanders says he wouldn’t feel good about all that extra money U-46 would get this year, knowing that his district’s gain would come at the expense of Chicago Public Schools. "I don't understand how it's okay to take money away from one of the poorest school districts in order to redistribute that across all school districts, which include those wealthy districts already spending above the state average,” he says.
Sanders says a 2015 school funding proposal sponsored by State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) — the same lawmaker sponsoring SB1 — would have boosted U-46’s state aid by $24 million, and by now would’ve increased to about the same amount as Rauner’s plan. But that 2014 proposal (known as SB16) relied on taking state funds away from school districts with high property values and redistributing those dollars to lower-income districts. That plan passed the Senate, but never got heard in the House. A similar plan sponsored by Manar in 2016 (SB231) suffered a similar fate. Manar has said those two measures taught him that no school funding reform has a chance if it creates “winners and losers,” so he designed SB1 to freeze every district at its current funding level, and then distribute additional resources through a new “evidence-based model.”
Rauner’s education secretary Beth Purvis has said the governor “likes 90 percent” of SB1, but objected to its generosity to Chicago Public Schools. However, when Rauner issued his AV, he used his veto pen to make changes far beyond those stated objections. Some of his most significant changes wouldn’t kick in until July 2020.
Due to the legislative calendar, a three-fifths majority vote is required to either uphold or override Rauner’s veto. The Senate mustered that margin and overrode the veto last Sunday, but it’s unlikely the House will find that many votes either way. It’s scheduled to take up the matter tomorrow.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have been negotiating for days, trying to come up with a compromise. Those talks are conducted behind closed doors, but word has gotten out that discussion has included mandate relief (such as relaxing requirements for PE and allowing schools to outsource drivers education), “management rights” (which Manar refers to as scaling back collective bargaining rights for teachers), and the potential creation of a $100 million tuition tax credit program to assist families who want their children to go to private schools.
One thing all sides publicly and repeatedly have agreed upon is that the current school funding formula needs to be scrapped. Heavily reliant upon property taxes, it has made Illinois the most inequitable state in the nation, with some districts spending around $7,000 per student per year, while others spend more than $30,000 per student per year. In fact, lawmakers included a clause in the state budget requiring enactment of a new “evidence-based” school funding plan before a penny of state aid could be sent to schools. The first state aid payment was due Aug. 10, and no money was sent.
Sanders is part of a large contingent of school administrators who have lobbied in favor of SB1, and against Rauner’s veto. The governor has long-time Speaker of the House Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) is to blame for their efforts, because the administrators are scared of him. Sanders says he’s never spoken to Madigan, and that Madigan wouldn’t recognize him if they bumped into each other at the State House.
"I'm not afraid of Mike Madigan, I'm not afraid of (Senate President) John Cullerton (D-Chicago), and I'm not afraid of the governor,” Sanders said. “I'm here to just speak my mind."
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