Rauner touts school funding plans during QHS visit

Smiling into the camera as Gov. Bruce Rauner takes a selfie with them are, from left, Quincy High School students Meagan Crim, Kobi Cookson and Danica Mosley. Rauner stopped to get the picture while touring QHS on Tuesday, Mar. 1, 2016. Rauner spoke about education funding and met with students. | H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Mar. 1, 2016 7:45 pm

QUINCY -- Gov. Bruce Rauner told students at Quincy High School that education funding should not be a hostage of the Illinois budget impasse.

"One of the reasons I ran for governor was to make our schools the best in the nation," Rauner told a classroom full of sophomores.

Unfortunately, he said, the state spends less on schools than any other state in the nation and is overreliant on property taxes. That's one thing Rauner wants to reform with the help of the Legislature.

Before that can happen, Illinois needs to pass a state budget so universities can get state money and the state's MAP grants can help students afford college. Illinois has operated without a spending plan since July 1. Some programs have received state payments because of court rules, but higher education funding has been frozen.

Although Rauner said he wants to see operational funds released for universities and community colleges, and MAP grants funded, he won't sign off on legislation that adds spending without a revenue source. That would amount to a backdoor tax hike, the governor said.

Two possible solutions to funding problems have been put forward.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has drafted legislation that would sweep special purpose accounts where "funds are sitting idle." Rauner said that bill would generate about $160 million almost immediately and provide help so that Western Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University and Chicago State University would not have to lay off hundreds of workers.

Rauner's proposal for financing MAP grants would "reform state procurement" to save $500 million a year. Tweaking state pension systems could produce $1 billion more in savings, Rauner said.

He blamed House Speaker Michael Madigan for blocking education funding. Repeating some of his talking points from a Monday news conference in Chicago, Rauner said Madigan is playing politics and is unwilling to allow a vote on the bipartisan funding bill. He also said several university presidents would not attend a news conference on higher education funding after they told him they had been warned by Madigan not to back any of Rauner's proposals -- a claim that a Madigan spokesman disputed.

The first-term Republican governor said he won't support any legislation that would use state dollars to bail out the Chicago School District.

Instead, he has called for an additional $55 million to put into state assistance for education, which he said would fully fund the $6,119-per-student foundation level set by the state as the minimum amount needed to provide an adequate education.

Before taking questions from students, Rauner said he has two top priorities that are related. "Great schools and a boomin' economy" go together when schools work with local business to teach the skills needed for high-demand jobs, he said.

Regulations that hamstring teachers also need to be eliminated, Rauner said. Schools often have to require a certain amount of physical education activities, even for students on sports teams. Other rules might force driver's education to be taught a certain way.

One student wanted to know Rauner's best advice for expanding opportunities.

"Whatever you choose to do, give it your best," he said.

He also repeated three pieces of advice his grandparents gave him -- work hard, get a good education, and give back to the community.