SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner promised "swift action" after lawmakers met a deadline to get a school funding plan on his desk Monday.
Without a plan in place, the state cannot pay local districts that are expected to start classes in a few weeks. When Illinois lawmakers reached a budget agreement weeks ago, funding for schools was tied to passing a new school funding plan.
The plan, Senate Bill 1, is a complete re-write of how the state dishes out money to more than 800 public school districts. Lawmakers have called Illinois school funding system one of the worst in the country in terms of equity and adequacy.
Rauner is on record saying he supports more than 90 percent of the plan, but the sticking point is more than $200 million set aside to pay Chicago Public Schools' legacy pension costs. Rauner has called it a "bailout" for a poorly managed system.
"Working on trying to re-do the funding is just trying to make the school funding more equitable for the kids who live in poverty like my own," said Cahokia USD 187 Superintendent Art Ryan. "For the legislature and the governor to use this as a political tool to battle each other instead of worrying about taking care of the kids is really disheartening."
For weeks, Rauner has threatened to use his amendatory veto power to make changes to the bill and send it back to the legislature for another vote. Lawmakers would have the option to override the governor, but it would require a three-fifths majority in both chambers.
"Don't veto the bill, see these negotiations through," said Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill. "We think we can get to the point where we can have a reasonable solution to school funding reform in the state that all parties can agree to and that's going to take more discussions and more time."
If Rauner vetoes the bill and the legislature does not agree to the changes or cannot get the three-fifths majority needed for an override, lawmakers worry the process starts back at square one.
Manar said productive negotiations began Saturday and hopes an agreement can be reached, even if lawmakers need to draft a new bill to appease the governor.
"Democrats have been sitting on the education funding bill for two months, in effect holding our student’s hostage and threatening our public schools` ability to open on time," Rauner's office said in a statement. "Finally, this afternoon, the bill was sent to the governor`s desk. the governor will now review the bill and take swift action."
The state's first payment to schools is due Aug. 10th, but most districts say they have a way to get through the first few months of the school year without state funding.