Illinois governor's veto could jeopardize school funding

Illinois Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner speaks to the media after a meeting with then-President Barack Obama from seven U.S. states at the White House in Washington, D.C. in 2014. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner used his veto power Tuesday to strip millions of dollars for Chicago Public Schools from a school funding overhaul, a move that could mean no districts get state money before classes begin.

The Republican removed help for Chicago Public Schools' pensions along with money the district formerly received in the form of a block grant, along with other rewrites.

"With my changes, Illinois can achieve historic education funding reform that is fair and equitable to all of Illinois' children," Rauner said at a Capitol news conference.

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. Both options will be difficult. If neither chamber can muster the votes, the legislation dies.

Democratic Senate President John Cullerton had urged Rauner a day earlier to "do the right thing" and sign the legislation.

"Students, parents, teachers and taxpayers have waited long enough," he said. "This is a chance to make a huge, meaningful change for Illinois."

Rauner accused Democrats of sitting on the bill to force a crisis.

A new school formula is required as part of a budget deal that legislators approved earlier this month over Rauner's veto. Without new legislation, schools won't get paid. The first payment to schools is due Aug. 10.

While schools are expected to open on time even without state funding, many districts have said they'll have to make cuts or even close their doors if lawmakers can't agree on a plan by fall.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers met during the weekend and again Monday to try to reach a compromise, including the bill's sponsor state Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat. Ahead of Rauner's news conference, he said any veto would undo decades of work and urged Rauner not to engage in a "veto showdown."

Democrats involved in the talks described the closed-door meetings Monday afternoon as "friendly" and positive, and said they asked Republicans to continue to try to reach a compromise.

But Republican state Sen. Jason Barickman ripped the talks as "a charade" and accused his Democratic counterparts of playing political games.

Democrats then lifted a hold on the legislation they passed in May and sent it to Rauner.

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.

Democrats insist the pending proposal is fair since Chicago is the only Illinois district that pays the employer portion of teacher pension costs. Republicans say the new formula means Chicago will continue to get money that it previously received as a block grant. Rauner has called it a "bailout."

Tareen contributed from Chicago.

READ MORE: Illinois approves spending plan, ending nation's longest budget stalemate

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