Lawmakers To Meet For Special Session Amid Education Funding Dispute

CHICAGO (CBS) — Some Illinois lawmakers were on their way back to Springfield on Wednesday, under orders from Gov. Bruce Rauner, for a special session to address education funding.

Rauner ordered the special session because the Illinois Senate has refused to send him legislation to change the state’s system for funding public schools. The governor has vowed to rewrite the bill to reduce extra funding for Chicago Public Schools, claiming the legislation as written serves as a bailout for CPS at the expense of other school districts across the state.

At least two lawmakers planned to boycott the special session, and instead planned to be at Gale Elementary Community Academy for a service day – to paint classrooms and get them ready for the new school year.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy and Rep. Ann Williams have called the special session a “political stunt.”

While the education funding remains on hold, schools face the prospect of starting the school year without state funding. For some districts, that might mean classes can’t start in the fall, or schools might have to close in a matter of weeks.

The school funding legislation at the center of the dispute in Springfield, Senate Bill 1, would change the way Illinois public schools are funded, by using what’s known as an “evidence-based” formula. A clause in the state budget lawmakers approved over Rauner’s veto would prevent schools from receiving state funding without the new “evidence-based” formula in place.

Senate Bill 1 includes $220 million to help CPS fund teachers’ pensions, and a $250 million special block grant.

Rauner has called that extra money to CPS a bailout for past pension shortfalls, and his office has said he will use his amendatory veto power to slash that money.

“We cannot allow the majority in the General Assembly to hold school opening hostage for their own political agenda. It is wrong and unfair for them to hold this school funding bill,” Rauner said.

However, Rauner has declined to provide details of his plan to change the funding bill, or how he calculated the changes he plans to make.

House Speaker Michael Madigan has issued a scathing rebuke of Rauner’s decision to call a special session when there is no agreement in place for lawmakers to vote on.

“Throughout three years of the governor’s budget crisis, we saw very clearly that political theater is not a substitute for real leadership. By calling a special session while he refuses to negotiate and even says ‘there’s nothing to discuss,’ the governor is continuing to create a crisis that pits one child against another,” Madigan said in a prepared statement on Tuesday.

The governor and the legislature have less than a week to come up with an agreement on education funding before the first state payments to schools are due to go out on Aug. 1.

The special session was set to begin Wednesday at noon.

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