BLOOMINGTON — Local school officials are awaiting the fate of education funding reform as school starts in two weeks and the funding bill has not passed.
Through an amendatory veto Tuesday, Gov. Bruce Rauner removed a portion of the bill that provided help for Chicago Public Schools’ pensions along with money the district formerly received in the form of a block grant.
“While some of what the governor did in the veto is good, other parts of it could be problematic,” said District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly. “He used that veto power to strike out increases that would go to districts based on certain factors relative to the funding formula.”
Rauner also removed a minimum funding requirement in the bill and made changes to the per-district hold harmless provision.
The bill now returns to the Democrat-controlled Legislature, where three-fifths of lawmakers in both chambers must either approve or override Rauner’s changes.
If neither chamber can raise the votes, the bill dies.
“Ideally, I’d like to see them reach a compromise and get an evidence-based funding model in place, which is required in the state budget,” said Reilly. “Anything short of that is problematic for us all.”
If the bill dies on the floor, Reilly said it could cause some districts to eventually shut their doors which “is a political nightmare neither side of the aisle wants.”
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, no Illinois district has reported that it could not open on time without funding. However, some districts can only survive for part of the year.
Bloomington’s District 87 and the Olympia district in Stanford could keep doors open for the entire school year, but that would result in a deep gouge to their reserve funds.
McLean County Unit 5 has enough reserves to open schools for 60 attendance days, or until mid-November. Unit 5 business manager Marty Hickman said the district’s doors will “open as scheduled” on Aug. 16.
“The (late) categorical payments from last fiscal year could be paid at any time now. We ask for them to be paid immediately, given the uncertainty of the payments from the new budget,” said Hickman.
The first payment for the 2017-18 school year is due Aug. 10, with many districts starting class the following week.
Because of the ongoing standoff, State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said he believes there will be a delay in those payments.
“When we recessed and left (Monday), we were calling the governor and (House) speaker (Michael Madigan) to reconvene the Illinois House of Representatives for special session. From a logistics standpoint, that means there will be a couple of days before we see order from either side,” said Brady.
Due to the weight of the issue, Brady said he believes the bill “will be negotiated to compromise."
“The unfair part is how long it’s taking with schools across the state caught in the middle,” he said.
Lawmakers from both parties agree the 20-year-old calculation currently used to fund public schools in Illinois is unfair and forces school districts to rely heavily on property taxes, creating huge disparities in per-student funding. But lawmakers have clashed over how to fix it.
The proposed formula channels money to the neediest districts first after ensuring that no district receives less money than last school year. It also includes pension help for Chicago, something no other Illinois district receives.