Manar speaks of Senate Bill 1

Manar speaks of Senate Bill 1

8 10 17

By Andy Manar

After months of divisive rhetoric, changing positions and no specific plan of his own, Gov. Bruce Rauner last week vetoed Senate Bill 1, the school funding reform measure carefully crafted by educators across Illinois to improve the future for all school districts going forward.

For months, Rauner kept his plan secret. But now that his veto language is public, it’s clear why he refused to negotiate with lawmakers beforehand. He injected radical changes into the measure that erode the fundamental intent of the bill – to ensure fair funding for all schools. These changes, in fact, will harm downstate Illinois’ least-funded schools the most, including many here in central Illinois.

If you’re not alarmed yet, you should be. His plan is carefully crafted to force difficult choices upon local communities: bear the burden of cost shifts onto local communities, forcing higher property taxes, or consolidate schools, diminish teachers’ pay and benefits and cut programs.

Some of what Rauner’s veto proposes:

– Penalties for enrollment declines. Between 2015 and 2016, about 60 percent of Illinois schools lost enrollment. It’s easy to suggest dollars should follow those pupils. But how are superintendents to cut teachers and classroom resources when students are lost a few at a time across multiple grade levels? It’s akin to suggesting mayors lay off firefighters because empty-nesters downsize their homes.

– Pitting schools against jobs. Rauner’s plan requires school districts to claim they have access to more local resources than they actually do, which means they’ll be entitled to less state funding. This jeopardizes tax increment financing, a key economic-development tool that many cities use to attract companies, and property tax cap adjustments that school districts are allowed to claim. Mayors should be aghast that this provision, with an immediate effect and no opportunity for public discussion, was inserted into a school funding bill.

– Back to winners and losers. Senate Bill 1 ensured no schools lost state funding. Some of them gained a lot, some didn’t gain much, but nobody lost a dollar of state funding. Rauner’s veto undoes that, making losers of hundreds of downstate school districts.

– But he took care of that awful “Chicago bailout,” right? Nope. It lives on under Rauner’s veto – and costs you more. Not only does he incorrectly count savings from Chicago teacher pensions, thus spending the same money twice and blowing a $221 million hole in the budget, he also raids money from Chicago special-education students so he can redistribute it to downstate schools for operations. I don’t know about everyone else, but stealing money from families of disabled youth, children with behavioral disorders and students who need help learning to read is not how most of the families I know want their schools to get ahead. Let’s enact a fundamentally fair system that benefits all districts instead — that’s what Senate Bill 1 does.

Rauner appears to be preparing a full-on assault of public education in Illinois, and those first to feel the pain are already-underfunded districts with growing numbers of impoverished students and other challenges. The long-term impact undoubtedly is higher property taxes.

Sadly, nearly every Republican lawmaker flocked to support his Rauner’s secret veto before they read one word of it. Few have publicly disavowed it even though they’ve now read it and must realize the damage it will cause.

The question now is this: Will these lawmakers support Rauner or the schools and the families they represent in Springfield?

Senate Bill 1 is good public policy and the result of years of hard work and passionate debate statewide among Democratic and Republican lawmakers, school superintendents and others. It offers a stable, long-term solution for Illinois and puts underfunded downstate districts at the front of the line.

This is a hill upon which I’m willing to die. I will continue negotiating with my colleagues until we find a path forward for all schools and for future generations of students who deserve the best Illinois can offer.

But I won’t support the provisions in Rauner’s veto. As the people of Illinois begin to learn more about his now-exposed hidden agenda, I believe they will agree.

Senator Andy Manar is a Bunker Hill Democrat and the sponsor of Senate Bill 1.