News Local/State

Rauner Pledges Support For Education As He Tours A Middle School In Champaign

Gov. Bruce Rauner, visiting a class at Franklin Middle School in Champaign.

Gov. Bruce Rauner talks to students in a Social Studies class at Franklin Middle School in Champaign. Jim Meadows / Illinois Public Media

Governor Bruce Rauner dropped in on classes at Franklin Middle School in Champaign on Wednesday, praising educators and pledging his commitment to public school funding.

State funding for public schools is the only part of the Illinois budget that remains in effect in Illinois, since a stopgap budget for other state spending expired on December 31st.

Gov. Rauner used his school visit to emphasize his commitment to public school funding. The governor has kept state funding for schools going, while other parts of the state budget lapsed.

And as noted by St. Rep. Chad Hays (R-Catlin), who joined the governor on the visit, state funding for public schools had for many years fallen well below the Foundation Level --- the minimum guaranteed level of funding per student that the state is supposed to supply.

“This fiscal year, for the first time in --- forever --- the funding level is 100 percent”,” said Hays, who credited Rauner for the achievement.

However, the restoration of full Foundation Level funding for schools does not cover so called "mandated categoricals" --- state government jargon that refers to categories like transportation and special education. School districts are still receiving less than full state funding in those areas.

The governor spoke to students about the importance of education, his admiration for teachers and his commitment to funding public schools.

At one class, where students were allowed to ask questions, Rauner talked about his typical workday and his favorite sports teams. When asked what he and lawmakers were doing to pass a state budget, Rauner said wanted to balance the budget, but also improve the economy so that it could produce more tax revenue to fund state government. And he praised efforts by lawmakers towards a budget compromise.

“Right now, Democrats and Republicans are coming together, to work on a balanced budget with structural changes”, said Rauner. “Fingers crossed, we’re hopin’ that they’ll propose some ideas. I’ve proposed ideas, but I’ve said if anybody else has ideas, we’ll do theirs.”

Rauner's remarks appeared to reference a compromise budget package --- including some non-budget reforms --- that has been proposed but not passed in the Illinois Senate, and passage by the lame duck Illinois House earlier this month of a freeze on local property tax rates.

Rauner’s appearance at Franklin Middle School was greeted by about a dozen demonstrators, who blamed the governor for the year-and-a-half that has gone by with no full state budget in Illinois.

“Rauner, Quit Stalling Or Just Quit!” read one of the signs carried by the demonstrators.

Some of the teachers in the classrooms that Rauner visited wore shirts featuring the logo of their union, the Champaign Federation of Teachers.

A CFT news release said that even though the governor had kept state funding coming for K-12 schools, the lack of a state budget had hurt funding for higher education.

“He (Rauner) has been presented with budgets and bills to fund higher education and MAP grants, which he has rejected simply because they didn’t fulfill his unrelated political demands first”, stated CFT President Jennifer White in the release.

During  his school visit, Rauner emphasized his support for the University of Illinois. And he said he was in talks with several high-caliber candidates that he hoped will fill seats on the U of I Board of Trustees.

“It’s a little bit of a process getting some of these superstars”, said Rauner. “They’re busy, there’s a lot of demands on their time. But they also care about the U of I, and they have connections to the U of I. And if we can get them to be willing to serve on the Trustees, it’ll be outstanding.”

Rauner told reporters who joined him for the school visit that he couldn’t make public who any of the potential nominees were at this time, but that if he could, they would find them “extraordinary”.

The terms for three U of I trustees expire this month: social service executive Ricardo Estrada (who has said he doesn’t want to be reappointed), former Springfield mayor Karen Harara and law professor and former judge Patricia Brown-Holmes.

UPDATE: This article was revised to note that the restoration of full "Foundation Level" school funding from the state does not cover funding in certain categories, and to note the Illinois House passage of a freeze on local property tax rates. - JM 1/19/17