Gov. Bruce Rauner has boasted that fixing Illinois’ woefully inequitable school funding formula was his top accomplishment of the past year. But yesterday, he struck down a measure needed to implement that reform, by issuing an amendatory veto of a relatively short, simple “trailer” bill drafted to ensure that the 550-page reform plan squared up with the financial models lawmakers had approved.
The trailer had received bipartisan support (unanimous in the House; 42-11 in the Senate), but Rauner’s veto letter says it doesn’t go far enough in providing school choice, and he wants to lower the standards to include private schools that haven’t yet received “recognition” from the Illinois State Board of Education.
Such “recognition” entails a thorough examination of a school. It starts with a 17-page form that requires documentation of curriculum, anti-discrimination policies, teacher qualifications, staff background checks and other safety protocols — all confirmed by teams of ISBE investigators through multiple site visits.
Rauner wants to include private schools that are merely “registered” with ISBE, which is a more casual process. Registration means a school official completes a five-page form providing “assurances” regarding curriculum, safety, and other standards, but does not include a site visit. Schools lobbying for this change include Urban Prairie Waldorf School, Village Leadership Academy, and Chicago’s nationally-renowned Hales Franciscan High School.
The tax credit program was created last summer, when lawmakers couldn't agree on how to fix school funding. The private school measure became the key that unlocked compromise, but it was a product of closed-door negotiations among legislative leaders, and never received a public hearing.
State Sen. Andy Manar, the Bunker Hill Democrat who sponsored both the original school funding reform and the trailer bill, says if this concept had come up earlier in the process, this wrinkle might have been ironed out.
"I get it. I mean, I understand the discrepancy here, but this is what happens when there isn't a single public hearing about an idea like tax credits for private schools,” he says.
Manar believes the governor’s veto falls outside the scope of the trailer, which would make it “non-compliant” or unconstitutional. But Manar is afraid it will just doom the tweaks, and stymie the distribution of new monies meant to begin addressing inequity.
"By linking issues that have nothing to do with each other, it's going to be highly unlikely that any new money will be distributed to schools in an equitable fashion this fiscal year,” he says.
Rauner’s spokespersons Rachel Bold disagrees.
“We believe it is unfair for critics to say that this amendatory veto will delay implementation of SB 1947,” she said via email. “The Illinois State Board of Education continues to work on the new funding formula, and tier funding is still several months from being sent out.”
While the issue is debated, schools will continue to receive the same state funding they got last year.