Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner came to Lyons Township High School on Monday to promote his plan to fully fund state aid to schools and to reiterate his argument that big changes are needed for Illinois to stimulate economic growth.
On May 9, Rauner briefly dropped in on a ceramics class at LTHS and toured the library before briefly speaking to two American history classes in North Campus’ Reber Center. After that, Rauner held a brief press conference in a hallway, where he emphasized his plan to fully fund schools for the first time in seven years.
“We need to make schools our top priority and, no matter what else happens in the state budget, our schools should get more money and they should open on time,” Rauner said. “We bring in more than $32 billion as a state and the first place that money should go, right off the top, is to our schools.”
Rauner is proposing increasing state aid to K-12 schools in Illinois by about $120 million next year.
The governor said he is open to discussing changing the general state aid funding formula to direct more state money to poorer school districts, something that many Democrats in the state legislature have been pushing, but said the first priority should be increasing state aid to schools.
“We’ve got to put more money into schools while we continue to work in a bipartisan basis to come up with a school funding formula change,” Rauner said. “The single most important thing we can do is make sure that overall state aid goes up.”
Rauner said that more state aid could relieve some of the burden on local homeowners, whose property taxes make up the largest source of revenue for local school districts.
“We over rely on local property taxes,” Rauner said. “That is punishing on our homeowners and small business owners, makes our property taxes some of the highest in America and it’s unfair.”
Rauner said that he is willing to work with Democrats to change the school funding formula, but didn’t take a direct position when asked about a bill sponsored by State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) that would change the state funding formula to funnel more state aid to poorer school districts.
“I would have to study Andy’s bill more,” Rauner said. “What I’ve been told is that it has huge new financing for Chicago and some pretty large hits, in terms of reductions, to school districts around the state. That would make me uncomfortable.”
House minority leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) appeared with Rauner. Durkin said that according to calculations performed by the Illinois State Board of Education, if Manar’s bill became law Lyons Township High School District 204 would lose about $1.9 million in state aid.
Durkin said that most west suburban school districts would see a reduction of state aid under Manar’s bill while the Chicago Public Schools would get approximately $375 more in state aid than it currently receives.
“I’m not against Chicago getting more money,” Durkin said. “But I’m not going to do it to the detriment of schools that are in the south suburbs or just a little bit east in Berwyn or in Riverside. There shouldn’t be losers in this.”
Under the Manar plan, Riverside-Brookfield High School would lose about $800,000 in state aid over four years and all other local school districts, except for Lyons-Brookfield District 103, would also lose money.
According to ISBE’s scoring of Manar’s bill, Riverside Elementary School District 96 would lose about $1 million while Brookfield LaGrange Park District 95 would lose almost $387,000, Komarek School District 94 would lose about $335,000, and LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 would lose nearly $1.4 million in state aid.
However, Lyons-Brookfield District 103 is projected to receive an additional $1,031,594 in state aid should Manar’s bill, as currently written, become law.
Durkin was asked whether a well-off district like LTHS could afford to get by with less state aid to help make spending on education more equitable in the state. Durkin said that his priority is increasing general state aid.
“I’m not going to penalize a school that’s been prudent with their finances and has done a good job with taxpayers’ money,” Durkin said. “There should be no losers, period.”
Rauner said he is willing to work with Manar on ways to change the state aid funding formula.
“I don’t want Senator Manar to give up,” Rauner said. “We should keep working together. Democrats and Republican should keep working together on a school funding transformation.”
Rauner said he is willing to work with the legislature to resolve the budget impasse. Illinois has been without a budget for more than 10 months.
“I’m willing to compromise across the board,” Rauner said. “The only thing I’m not willing to compromise on, and I said it in my budget address, is more money for schools, K to 12, and more money for early childhood education.”
Rauner said that rank-and-file legislators from both parties have been meeting together in private working towards compromises and are making progress.
“Complex, difficult negotiations are really hard to hold in public where bits and pieces come out in public,” Rauner said. “I’m trying to respect the process and not talk too much about what’s being discussed in the working groups of the legislature and hope they get it done by May 31. We just got to stay persistent.”