Going nowhere fast?

Going nowhere fast?

There's no good reason why Democrats and Republicans can't find common ground on the school funding reform issue.

The political fat is in the fire in Springfield — once again.

The last showdown was on the 2017-18 state budget. Democrats passed their version — higher taxes, no reforms — over Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto. It was another stunning display of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan's political muscle.

This time the issue is the school funding formula bill that aims to provide more state aid to less affluent school districts, a point on which both Democrats and Republicans agree. They disagree on other provisions in the legislation — picking up teacher pension costs for Chicago, for example. That's why Gov. Rauner issued an amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1.

Rather than working out their differences, the preferred course of action, it seems clear that Speaker Madigan is going for another knockout by overriding Rauner's veto and passing the Democratic version of the bill.

In the meantime, representatives of both parties are continuing to meet privately in what appears to be a purposely fruitless effort to find common ground. State Sen. Jason Barickman, the Bloomington Republican who has been the GOP's point man on the issue, characterized meetings between Democrats and Republicans as "the equivalent of hamsters on a wheel."

In other words, they're not getting anywhere.

At the same time, Democrats are publicly attacking Gov. Rauner as an enemy of public education, an odd charge considering the millions of dollars he donated over the years to support public education.

State Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat who has worked closely with Barickman, accused the governor of waging "an all-out assault on Illinois' commitment to public schools" and having a desire to "divest from public education."

Good grief.

A more reasonable view is that Sen. Manar and Gov. Rauner disagree on the best methods of achieving the same goals. Impugning motives may be effective politics — the 2018 governor's race already is underway — but it's a poor way to achieve what both sides continue to insist they want — better educational opportunities for K-12 students throughout the state.

The public histrionics would almost be acceptable if the two parties were making negotiating progress behind the scenes. But that seems to be a charade, too.

It now appears that concerns over some K-12 schools not being able to open for the 2017-18 school year were overblown, that they have sufficient funds and resources (tax anticipation warrants) to start the school year. For how long is a different issue altogether.

But it appears to be a virtual certainty that the state will not be able to meet its statutory deadline of getting school financial aid checks out by the Aug. 10 deadline. That's because the state has no authority to issue the checks until the evidence-based funding formula in S.B. 1 has been adopted.

The Senate is expected to return to Springfield in mid-August, where the initial skirmishing over S.B. 1 will take place. It seems certain the Senate — given its Democratic super-majority — will override the governor's amendatory veto.

The issue then will move to the House, where Speaker Madigan is four votes short of a super-majority. Chicago Republican state Rep. Michael McAuliffe almost certainly will support overriding the amendatory veto of the Chicago-friendly S.B. 1. So that means Madigan must pick off at least three GOP votes and perhaps many more if he's going to permit House Democrats outside Cook County to support Rauner's amendatory veto.

Some Democrats outside Chicago may want to vote "no" because the extra money S.B. 1 contains for Chicago — roughly $400 million-plus — comes at the expense of other school districts throughout the state.

Sen. Barickman insists Republicans and Democrats could make a deal on the bill if Democrats would abandon their demand that the state pick up Chicago pension costs. So far, they have not.

He also said Republicans might be willing to concede Chicago's pension costs if Democrats would give them something, like the same kind of mandate relief for school systems throughout the state that Chicago enjoys. But, so far, they haven't done that either.

So it looks like another political showdown, the results of which remain undetermined and place K-12 schools under the shadow of uncertainty.

That, too, is by design. Legislative Democrats passed S.B. 1 on May 31, and the issue would have been resolved long ago if they hadn't used a parliamentary procedure to avoid sending the bill to Rauner until July 31. That was an intentional 61-day delay designed to ratchet up concerns over school openings to pressure the governor to sign a bill that contains provisions he adamantly opposes.

Democrats are certainly entitled to get part of what they want in S.B. 1. But so are Republicans.

Voters, after all, elected a Democratic legislature and a Republican governor to work together. There's still time for them to do so.

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