The shakeup in Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office seems to signal a tougher stance on school funding. The state spending plan passed by the General Assembly requires adoption of a new funding formula, but Rauner has promised to veto the only school formula plan that got legislative approval. This standoff might make the lawsuit filed by 21 school superintendents more relevant.
The lawsuit, filed in April, demands that Illinois honor its constitutional obligation to provide a high quality education for all students.
Matt Seaton, superintendent of Streator Township High School District, says that can’t happen if the state doesn’t enact a school funding plan. So his board just voted to join the court action.
“Schools are going to be in a less-capable position to meet the standards placed on us by the state if nothing passes,” he says. “We need to move forward an evidence-based model, and SB1 seems to be the most likely candidate since it’s already two-thirds the way through the process.”
The lawsuit originally included 17 mostly-downstate districts, represented by the Chicago firm Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan. Four additional districts recently joined the case, including the suburban Chicago district of Oswego. The state has asked the court to dismiss the case.
Democrats and Republicans agree Illinois schools should get state dollars through an evidence-based model, and both parties have filed bills that would adopt this new formula.
The evidence-based model would boost the aid to districts with low property values or high concentrations of low-income students. Those districts have been under-funded in the current formula. Rauner has promised to veto that bill, because it includes money for Chicago teacher pensions. The state already foots the bill for all other teacher pensions.
The governor has replaced several top staff with people from the conservative Illinois Policy Institute, which has opposed the new school formula formula that lawmakers passed.