Send S.B. 1 to governor

Send S.B. 1 to governor

Scorched-earth political games continue in Springfield.

It's a ruthless brand of politics that puts K-12 public school kids in the middle of a fight among powerful elected officials.

But that's where they're at as the fall school year draws near. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and majority Democrats in the General Assembly are at odds over the details of legislation that rewrites the state's school aid financing formula, and the political maneuvering threatens the opening of schools for the 2017-18 school year.

How many school openings would be in jeopardy is unclear. But the last thing this state needs is to find out.

Some districts certainly have sufficient financial reserves to operate for a while without state aid. Other, poorer districts lack the means to do so.

It's fine if the politicians want to have another rumble — a la the just-completed, self-defeating two-year budget standoff. After all, the democratic process isn't always as neat and tidy as many people would like it to be.

But the bad timing is strictly optional, something Democrats can clear up in a heartbeat if they wish.

They've been holding the school funding formula legislation in the Senate since May 31 — more than six weeks — deliberately refusing to send Senate Bill 1 for action to Gov. Rauner.

Democrats have mostly kept their thoughts on timing to themselves. Chicago state Sen. Donne E. Trotter, who put the hold on the bill, said he's "aware of the time constraints" and "would expect the school funding legislation to be on the governor's desk sooner rather than later."

Democrats need to get the bill to Rauner's desk as soon as possible. That way the impending political battle can be waged and resolved either by a clear victory by one side or the other — or avoided through political compromise.

Here, in a nutshell, is the problem. The state's school aid formula is in dire need of a rewrite, a point on which Rauner and Democrats agree. S.B. 1 does the job in a way that provides additional state aid to less affluent districts and less aid to more wealthy districts.

But Rauner contends the bill also contains additional measures that benefit Chicago public schools, a poverty district, at the expense of less affluent children across the state.

He's announced his intention to use his amendatory veto power to revise the legislation in a way that he said is fair to all students across the state. House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats, dismiss Rauner's charges of favoritism for Chicago and are bitterly opposed to Rauner's proposed rewrite because Chicago schools would get less than they do under S.B. 1.

The speculation is that the longer Democrats hold the bill, the greater the pressure will be on Rauner to sign it.

It's crucial that some version of the school finance formula bill become law. That's because the state lacks the legal authority to distribute state aid dollars to school districts without the evidence-based formula the bill contains.

In other words, if there's no version of S.B. 1 that becomes law, there will be no state aid flowing to public school districts.

Democrats are certainly correct that the longer they hold S.B. 1, the greater the chances that chaos will ensue and Gov Rauner will be blamed. State Sen. Jason Barickman estimated that school districts will need to have state aid checks on hand by Aug. 10 to ensure school openings. That means, he said, that the Illinois State Board of Education must have legal authority to send the checks by late July to meet the Aug. 10 deadline.

Given today's data of July 19, Illinois is already on the brink of a problem, one that is wholly unnecessary.

There's no reason Gov. Rauner and Democrats could not have worked out their differences, or still can't, to reach a compromise.

Instead, Democrats seem intent on repeating their decisive win on the budget battle with one on the school funding formula. Rauner is equally intent on not letting that happen. K-12 kids represent the collateral damage if this battle-of-wills plays itself out to its ultimate conclusion.

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Sid Saltfork wrote on July 19, 2017 at 12:07 pm

Why work it out?  Rauner has already indicated that he will veto the bill so that he can make changes in it.   Wait until the last minute, and let him have it.  He can veto it, and the schools will not open.  He can sign it, and the schools will open.  The republican, and democrat legislators worked on, and approved the bill.  Rauner in a non-enity now.  He can play leader until his term is up.  The GOP needs to find someone to challenge him for governor.  Both Madigan, and Rauner need to go into retirement.  No more billionaire governors either.