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Lawmakers, reject Gov. Rauner's changes on school funding

Chicago Tribune

Friday, August 11, 2017  |  Column  |  Kristen McQuearyContact Reporter

Education Funding (36a) , Legislature (56) , Rauner, Bruce

When Illinois legislators return to Springfield to address school funding reform, they should override Gov. Bruce Rauner's amendatory veto of the bill or pass a new version with a veto-proof majority.

In summary: Rauner botched this one.

The governor has not made, and cannot seem to make, a compelling case for the breadth and scope of his changes to a bill that represented a decade of research on a broken school funding formula. Instead he has delivered only mixed messages and tumult.

Rather than use a scalpel on the bill as he and his education secretary, Beth Purvis, signaled he would do, Rauner used a cleaver.

He stripped out extra protections slipped into the bill for Chicago Public Schools; that was expected and justifiable. But then he expanded his surgery to limit the potential of the bill's impact in property-poor areas throughout Illinois.

Worse, he could not fully explain his changes and offered no real data to back up the claim that his version would benefit "the poorest and most disadvantaged school districts across the entire state."

Do we take him at his word? Or do we demand numbers to support his rhetoric? Rauner's State Board of Education should have immediately released a district-by-district breakdown of how his Aug. 1 veto would affect public schools, many of which are days from opening their doors.

Republicans often criticize Democrats for supporting policies based on emotion, not math. Yet Gov. Rauner expected to get a pass on how his veto would affect the bottom line of school districts.

Continually, Rauner's focus seems to be at the wrong end: protecting wealthy school districts from losing what they have instead of advocating for low-income school districts and what they need.

Maybe this seems insignificant, but the lead lawmaker — Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill — says he never got to sit down and discuss it with Rauner.

It matters because Rauner often talks of bipartisan compromise.

It matters because Manar, who has worked on the bill for four years, earned at least a meeting.

It matters because most lawmakers in Springfield coast to re-election by passing puffy, easy bills and showing up at the right pancake breakfasts and block parties.

Manar was still holding town hall meetings on education funding last week while nearly 30 of his colleagues, including Senate President John Cullerton, were in Boston on a junket.

Yes, that matters too.

Changing the school funding formula in this state is long overdue. I would have liked to get behind Rauner's changes, if they were delivered via scalpel and with explanation. But even he can't seem to defend them.

Override his changes, lawmakers, or pass a new bill. Then move on to the next crisis.

Kristen McQueary is a member of the Tribune Editorial Board.

kmcqueary@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @statehousechick