Photographer: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Illinois School Funding Is in Limbo

  • Senate overrode Rauner’s partial veto that cut Chicago aid
  • Legislative leaders are meeting Friday at governor’s request

Illinois is tardy, again.

The state, which took two years to pass a budget, is a week late in sending aid to its elementary and high schools as lawmakers and Governor Bruce Rauner struggle to agree on a plan to distribute money to school districts.

On Sunday, the Senate overrode Rauner’s amendatory veto that would have cut millions of dollars for Chicago’s cash-strapped school district. This year’s budget mandates that $6.7 billion of aid to schools be doled out through an evidence-based funding formula, but the bill that does that was partially nixed by Rauner, a Republican, who called it a "pension bailout” for Chicago. August 10 marked the first time that a general state aid payment to schools didn’t go out since at least the 1970s, according to the comptroller’s office.

On Wednesday, the House didn’t take up an override vote. Instead, lawmakers voted on a separate amendment that Democratic sponsors said represented changes made to the school funding bill by Rauner’s veto. The measure failed. 

Democrats, who control the legislature and called the vote, said they wanted to show the lack of support for Rauner’s veto. Republicans called the move a sham. The four legislative leaders are meeting on Friday at the governor’s request, said Minority Leader Jim Durkin, a Republican representative.

“There is a willingness to bring this to closure,” Durkin said. “The more we can stop playing games the better we’ll be in a position to finish our work.”

The House plans to vote to override the veto on Aug. 23, Speaker Michael Madigan told reporters. If the House can’t override or reach an agreement with the governor, they’ll advance a separate bill that includes the same provisions as the original measure, according to Madigan, a Democrat, who controls much of the legislative agenda.

The delay in distributing aid is a “credit negative” for Illinois school districts, Moody’s Investors Service said in a report on Thursday. As many as 20 of the 256 districts that Moody’s rates could see credit deterioration within months, according to the report, and the longer the impasse continues, the greater the number of districts that will come under stress.

Chicago’s school leaders are betting that state funding will come through. The district’s $5.7 billion budget relies on an additional $300 million of state funding for the year that started Aug. 1. The budget also includes an additional $269 million from the city of Chicago, and the school district is working with the city “to identify potential sources,” according to a press release on Aug. 11. 

The Chicago Board of Education still needs to approve the district’s budget, and is scheduled to meet Aug. 28.

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