Illinois Lawmakers Back in Session -- And Clashing With Governor

By Quint Forgey Features Dow Jones Newswires

Less than a month after Illinois's Democratic legislature overrode Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto to pass the state's first budget in more than two years, lawmakers are back in Springfield and at loggerheads with the governor.

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Mr. Rauner called a special session that begins Wednesday focused on approving a new K-12 school funding formula before the start of fall classes.

The $36 billion budget package passed earlier this month included a funding increase of roughly $350 million to K-12 schools, but the state must still establish a mechanism to distribute the new money.

The General Assembly approved legislation in May to enact a funding formula allocating funds to the neediest school districts first, but the governor has pledged to use his amendatory veto power to rewrite the bill.

The governor has said the new funding formula, outlined in Senate Bill 1, favors the hard-pressed Chicago Public Schools district -- the only school district in Illinois that funds its teacher pension system without state aid. Senate Bill 1 would allocate CPS roughly $221 million in extra funds to help cover those costs.

"The point of the school reform bill is to ensure every child in Illinois, including kids in Chicago, get the education they deserve," Mr. Rauner said in a video message last week. "What we're not here to do is bail out CPS's mismanaged teacher pension system at the expense of every other child in the state."

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Backers of Senate Bill 1 say it attempts to establish adequate funding levels for school districts based on students' and institutions' individual needs, and takes into account factors such as districts' property tax contribution to school funding.

"We have the most inequitable system of school finance in the country," said Democratic Sen. Andy Manar, the bill's lead sponsor in the Senate. "The bill is well-vetted and it represents the culmination of four years of public discussion, and there's only one person who is opposed to it today, and that's Gov. Rauner."

Officials with the state Board of Education said the new funding formula must be signed into law by early August to give the Board of Education enough time to issue vouchers for state aid payments to the Illinois State Comptroller by Aug. 10.

The current backlog of vouchers awaiting payment by the comptroller to school districts totals roughly $1.2 billion -- another repercussion of the state's record-breaking, 736-day budget impasse.

Write to Quin Forgey at quint.forgey@dowjones.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 26, 2017 12:05 ET (16:05 GMT)