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Metro East K-12 school officials encourage quick special session over state funding

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Illinois' school funding formula will be the topic of discussion during the state's second special session of 2017.

Updated at 11 a.m. July 25 with statement from House Speaker Mike Madigan — Illinois lawmakers must hold the summer’s second special session due to disagreements over state’s K-12 school funding formula.

The mandate came Monday from Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. The Democrat-controlled General Assembly passed a major overhaul of school funding in May but never sent it to Rauner, who wants reduce the amount of money going to Chicago schools and redistribute it among downstate districts.

Without a funding formula in place, the Illinois State Board of Education will only be able to distribute $1.5 billion in state money to districts, according to ISBE spokeswoman Jackie Matthews.

“Our schools must open on time with the full, appropriate amount of money for every child, every teacher for the state of Illinois,” Rauner said Monday at a news conference, adding that he believes Democrats are “playing games.”

But Metro East school administrators say that getting the academic year rolling isn’t the concern, but keeping it going is. The school year begins the third week of August in the Metro East.

Districts can’t finalize their school calendars or budgets without knowing how much state money is coming, said Madison County Regional Superintendent Bob Daiber, who is among several Democrats vying to challenge Rauner in the 2018 election.

“We shouldn’t be wondering about this going into August 1st,” Daiber said.

Belleville superintendent Matt Klosterman said that, without the full state aid, his district may not be able to make payroll by the end of October.

Illinois’ education funding formula was called one of the most inequitable in the nation in 2015 by The Education Trust, a nonprofit advocacy organization, saying too much money goes to already wealthy districts.

Lawmakers changed it during the 2017 regular session, but it’s important to note that Illinois schools have gone without millions of dollars in state funding because of the two-year state budget impasse that ended earlier this month.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Bill Haine, D-Alton, admitted that what Rauner wants to do is good for his constituents in the Metro East, but not for the whole state.

“Is that good from a public policy standpoint? Personally, I don’t think so,” Haine said.

Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan of Chicago said in a statement Tuesday that the bill isn't in the House, so "the House cannot take positive action on the governor's call until it is in our chamber, especially as he refuses to even detail the changes he would like."

The special session will begin Wednesday; Rauner said it will end by Friday, July 31.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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