News Local/State

Urbana School Supt. & Local Democratic Lawmakers Call For Override To Ensure School Funding

Urbana School Dis. Supt. Don Owen, flanked by are St. Senators Andy Manar & Scott Bennett, St. Rep. Carol Ammons and Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin.

Urbana School Dis. Supt. Don Owen speaks at the podium at Urbana High School. Behind him, L-R are St. Senators Andy Manar & Scott Bennett, St. Rep. Carol Ammons and Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin. Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

Democrats have kept up a steady attack on Governor Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1, their education funding reform bill. And at a news conference in Urbana Thursday, they spelled out some of their complaints --- and their worst fear, that Illinois might enter the new school year with no state money authorized for public schools.

The news conference was held at Urbana High School, with Urbana School District 116 Superintendent Don Owen acting as host. The conference fell on the day when the state would normally send out its first installment of state funding for schools, had that funding been approved by the governor.

Less $ For School Districts With TIF Districts

Owen’s remarks set a pattern for the news conference --- targeting the part of Gov. Rauner’s amendatory veto that removes (after a three-year “hold harmless” period) the additional state funding that school districts receive to compensate for tax revenue that is shielded by tax increment finance (or TIF) districts, or limited by property tax caps imposed under Illinois’ PTELL law.

Owen noted that both the Urbana and Champaign school districts have TIF districts and are subject to tax caps.

During his visit to the University of Illinois on Wednesday, Gov. Rauner argued that he wanted to eliminate the extra funding that school districts receive for TIF districts and PTELL tax caps because they were unfair to taxpayers in other school districts, who were, in effect, footing the bill.

But Owen and others at the Urbana news conference said it was the governor’s changes that were unfair, because school districts were not really benefiting from the TIF districts.

“To say that the amendatory veto fixes Senate Bill One is ridiculous”, said Owen. “Senate Bill One has so much research behind it, has a bipartisan task force behind it. I’m frustrated that a governor who claims to be for economic development Is not investing in economic development, where it needs to start.” 

Owen was joined at the news conference by three Democratic lawmakers, St. Rep. Carol Ammons of Urbana, St. Sen. Scott Bennett of Champaign and St. Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill, the chief sponsor of the education funding bill.

Risk Of A School Year With No State Funding

They echoed Owen’s concerns about the governor’s amendatory veto to SB One. Sen. Manar called the governor's changes "a hard right turn on public education policy on the part of the Rauner administration". He said he believed the veto was largely the work of new staff members who came to the Rauner administration from the Illinois Policy Institute.

But they also voiced another concern: that lawmakers would not be able to come up with the needed supermajority to override the veto, or ratify it, or come up with an alternative bill that the governor might support.

Such a bill would have to provide a school funding formula that follows an equitable and evidence-based model, as required by the state budget passed in July over Gov. Rauner’s veto. If lawmakers can’t agree on a school funding bill that meets that requirement, Illinois could go into the school year with no state funding for public schools at all ---- different from the past two years, when state school funding continued, despite a budget impasse in other areas.

Owen said that District 116 would be able to operate without state funding through January 2018, but that other districts might not be able to last that long.

Rep. Ammons warned of the effect on families if a lack of state money forces some school districts to close.

“Parents will not be able to go to work, if school districts can’t last 96 days, like Urbana schools”, said Ammons. “Parents will not be able to take their children to school, so they can be free to work.

A Plea To Republicans

Democrats, especially in the Illinois House, would need help from at least some GOP members to form the supermajority needed to override the governor’s amendatory veto. Both Ammons and St. Sen. Manar, the education funding bill’s chief sponsor, used the news conference to call on Republicans to join them in voting for the override, in order to make sure school districts across Illinois received state funding.

"I'm here to ask for Republicans, downstate Republicans to step forward and do the right thing", said Manar. "I know that Republicans that we serve with in the legisature are good people, they're honest people, they want the right things, they know the difference between right and wrong. They know that this is a good bill."

The Illinois Senate is scheduled to reconvene in Springfield this coming Sunday, and could vote on school funding as soon as then. The Illinois House is scheduled to return next Wednesday,