BLOOMINGTON — Superintendents of Bloomington-Normal school districts were underwhelmed by Gov. Bruce Rauner's brief comments regarding K-12 education during his State of the State address Wednesday.
“He spent very little time talking about education funding. It’s very hard to take much way from that,” said Barry Reilly, superintendent of Bloomington District 87.
McLean County Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel said he was pleased to hear the governor mention education funding, but he is concerned about Rauner's comments about reducing property taxes.
"That's our primary source of funding. I'm anxiously waiting to see how the state handles its funding of public education if it were to reduce property taxes at the same time," said Daniel.
In the speech, Rauner boasted about “transforming” public education funding through a new formula, which was approved last summer, that distributes state aid based on need. It adds $350 million in new funding, starting with the districts in the greatest financial need, and increases the amount districts receive per student.
“I thought that was interesting in light of the fact he vetoed the most recent fix (to the formula),” said Reilly. “It seemed as though he was willing to take partial credit for the new funding formula but failed to mention it is being held up.”
Districts have yet to see the additional state money promised by the new formula because the Illinois State Board of Education is making technical tweaks to the wording.
Rauner recently added to the payment delay by vetoing a “trailer bill” that would solve some of the formula wording problems. His veto was overridden by lawmakers Wednesday, shortly before Rauner began his speech.
Rauner used his amendatory veto on the trailer bill to allow more private schools to be eligible for his tax credit scholarship program, Invest in Kids.
The scholarships, funded by donations from individuals and businesses, allow low-income families to send their children to private schools. Donors can give up to $100 million to scholarship granting organizations in exchange for state income tax credits worth 75 percent of the donation.
Reilly said it seemed that Rauner “spent more time touting his scholarship program” than he did talking about public education reform.
“I expect the program will have little impact here and will be more popular in Chicago,” said Reilly. “Our schools are good in McLean County, both public and private, and parents have the choice to send their children wherever they choose.”