Jim Dey: A school-funding showdown ... or not

Jim Dey: A school-funding showdown ... or not

Wednesday is D-Day — or not.

Democrats and Republicans in Springfield are searching for compromise — or not.

Senate Bill 1 is the legislative vehicle for rewriting the state's K-12 public school funding formula — or not.

Nothing seems to be certain as the battle over public school funding continues. except the political intrigue is reaching a high water mark.

Here's where things stand. Republican and Democratic legislative leaders got together Friday, supposedly in a search for common ground on the funding issue.

They face a Wednesday deadline set by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has tentatively scheduled a vote to override Gov. Rauner's amendatory veto of S.B. 1. But Wednesday is not necessarily the day.

Madigan said that if the override effort fails, the House has until Aug. 29 to get it done.

Madigan also has said that "we're prepared to come to an agreement with the governor" on a compromise, but "we're not gonna walk away from S.B. 1."

Finally, Madigan has said that if S.B. 1 doesn't become law, the House will pass H.B. 3163, which is identical in language to S.B. 1.

Got that? If so, welcome to the General Assembly's fun hall of mirrors, where few things are what they appear to be.

Democrats are more than halfway home in their quest to force feed Republican Rauner another horseradish sandwich.

A few weeks ago, Madigan — with the assistance of a handful of Republican House members — and legislative Democrats passed their version of a 2017-08 state budget over Rauner's veto.

Now they're on the verge of doing the same thing on the school funding bill that may or may not, depending on whose numbers one believes, financially favor Chicago public schools at the expense of all the other state K-12 schools.

The Illinois Senate overrode Rauner's amendatory veto Aug. 13. Madigan is hoping to do the same Wednesday, but he needs the vote of at least four GOP House members to be successful.

That's because Madigan lost his 71-47 super-majority in the November 2016 election while the Senate easily maintained its Democratic super-majority.

While still firmly in charge in the House, Madigan's 67-51 majority is just shy of giving him complete control of that body.

One of those House Republicans, however, is Chicago Rep. Michael McCauliffe. He'll certainly vote for Chicago-friendly S.B. 1.

But will at least three other Republicans? If so, what's the price they'll demand Madigan pay for their votes?

One published theory is that Madigan will try to pick up GOP votes by offering tax credits to upper-income parents who send their children to private schools. The plan, of course, has nothing to do with ensuring equity for K-12 public school students, more proof this fight is about winning and little else.

Meanwhile, time passes, racheting up the pressure as schools go without state aid payments scheduled to begin Aug. 10. Creating crisis through delaying also is part of the game.

Democrats passed their version of the school funding bill — S.B. 1 — on May 31, but declined to send the bill to Rauner for action until July 31. They were hoping the impending opening of schools for the 2017-18 year would pressure him into signing a bill the governor has repeatedly described as a "bailout" of Chicago's financially failing school system.

Rauner stuck by his guns, issuing a broad amendatory veto that raised new issues while alienating the previously supportive Chicago Tribune and some Republicans who felt blindsided by his unilateral action.

It's certain that Rauner's amended version of S.B. 1 will never become law, and he's said he's open to changing "any element of my amendatory veto."

"Absolutely nothing (in the amendatory veto) has to happen. The only principle we should be guided by is what's best for our schoolchildren, what treats them all the same," he said in an interview on Chicago television.

For instance, state Sen. Jason Barickman noted that Chicago is asking the state to pick up its teacher pension payments, something it is not doing now. Barickman said he'd be willing to support giving Chicago the pension payments if Madigan & Co. will give K-12 schools throughout Illinois the same kind of "flexibility" it gave Chicago schools 20 years ago — in other words the authority to hire third-party contractors to complete non-instructional services like groundskeeping. Not wishing to alienate the labor union campaign donors, Democrats, at least so far, have flatly refused.

The compromise of which both sides speak ought not be hard. But compromise without concessions is impossible.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.

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