Just Weeks Before School Starts, Illinois Gov. Vetoes Funding Formula

By Daarel Burnette II — August 01, 2017 2 min read
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Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed Tuesday parts of a proposed school funding formula that would pour more of the state’s money toward its public schools in order to offset local costs, and, more controversially, pay off a chunk of Chicago’s ballooning teacher pension fund.

Rauner has balked at spending state dollars on the teacher funds, which he says takes money away from downstate schools.

“With my changes, Illinois can achieve historic education funding reform that is fair and equitable to all of Illinois’ children,” Rauner said Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

The state’s Democrats now need to either gather enough Republican votes to override the veto or renegotiate with the Gov. Rauner.

If the governor and legislature can’t agree on a school funding formula by August 10, the typical date districts get money from the state, the Chicago Tribune reports many schools will have to either pull money out of their reserves or cut some after-school programs to open later this month. That’s something the state’s politicians don’t want to be blamed for.

In passing this year’s budget, the state just ended a two-year budget impasse that detrementally impacted the state’s colleges.

But in that budget was a clause that said the set-aside K-12 funds can only be distributed through a “research-based” school funding formula, forcing the state’s power brokers to, within weeks, agree on a new school funding formula.

Illinois is one of the few states in the country where, in most cases, local districts pay the majority of public schools’ costs. There’s consensus among Democrat and Republican politicians that the formula has caused inequities between wealthy and poor districts. But there’s not a consensus on what to do about Chicago’s pension fund.

Chicago is the only municipality in the state to have its own teacher-pension system. Under a series of disastrous financial decisions dating to the 1990s, the city began redirecting tax revenue for these pensions to general education programming, and began reducing its own annual payments into the system. Coupled with two financial downturns, in 2001 and 2008, those decisions have led to a ballooning pension liability. Servicing the pension makes up about a tenth of the district’s budget.

City officials note that their teachers pay into the state pension system without ever reaping its rewards, and have called for the state to pay its fair share of the district’s pension.

Stephen Sawchuk contributed to this report.

Photo: Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, center, flanked by Republican members of both state chambers, speaks during a news conference on the second day of a special session on education funding at the Illinois State Capitol, on July 27 in Springfield. —Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.