Even with a state budget, Illinois education money could be trapped
Even though the Illinois House overrode Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget veto Thursday — leading to a budget for the first time in more than two years — the state’s schools may still be in a pickle.
The language of the legislation could effectively block schools from getting state funding because, while it appropriates money, there’s currently no legal roadmap for doling out the money.
That’s because the budget legislation calls for K-12 spending to be distributed using a new “evidence-based” school funding formula. One version of such a formula, Senate Bill 1, passed both chambers of the General Assembly in May. Supporters called it historic, but Rauner has promised to veto the bill, saying it’s a bailout for Chicago Public Schools.
“There’s a weird possibility that we could have a budget, but it would be unclear if we would have a means to distribute that money to public schools,” said Bobby Otter, budget director with the nonprofit Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.
In his budget veto message to legislators Tuesday, Rauner said the budget bills sent to him hold Illinois schools hostage in order to benefit CPS.
“Hidden in this budget are terms that withhold school funding unless the school funding formula is rewritten to shift money from suburban and downstate school districts to CPS,” Rauner wrote.
How education money is distributed has been a key question in the state for years, with all sides agreeing Illinois has one of the most inequitable school funding systems in the nation.
Otter said he believes the question could end up in the courts.
“If the governor does not sign SB1 [or if] his veto is not overridden, it’s completely unclear to me if schools would get the money,” he said.
A Republican version of an evidence-based school funding formula was introduced last month by Sen. Jason Barickman from Bloomington. That bill gives less money to Chicago and hasn't been voted on.
For months, Illinois school superintendents have been clamoring for a state budget. They launched a hashtag campaign on Twitter, and even used the signs outside their schools to encourage lawmakers to pass a spending plan. Some districts have said they’ll have trouble opening this fall without one.
Illinois schools are owed more than $1 billion by the state for services they’ve already provided.
Linda Lutton covers education for WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation.