Rauner Faces Uphill Battle on Education, Finances

If the state is to fix its crumbling education system, it will have to spend at least a billion dollars more every year. That's according to a report released today and co-authored by a key member of Governor-elect Bruce Rauner’s transition team.

But, today Rauner lamented the condition of the state's finances, calling them "horrible." How will the new governor be able to make the math add up?

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It’s no secret that the state’s finances have been in bad condition, but now that Rauner and his staff have had a chance to look at the books, they’re worse than even he thought they were.

“The financial condition of the state of Illinois is stunningly bad,” said Rauner. “It’s horrible. Our financial condition is dire. We need to take strong action to fix it.”

The elephant in the room is pension reform – so much of the state budget goes to that -- and tomorrow, a circuit court judge is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the reform bill. Either way, it’s expected to be challenged in the state Supreme Court.

Rauner’s comments came after meeting with members of the General Assembly in the state Capitol today.

In his campaign, Rauner advocated for an eventual full rollback of the income tax down to 3 percent, but an increase in education spending in year one.

Former Gov. Jim EdgarThis is something that one of his key transition team members, Former Gov. Jim Edgar, hammered home today.

“Even in these difficult times, our most important investment must be to educate our students,” said Edgar, who also says the Rauner transition team has yet to formally meet.

Edgar admitted that he wasn’t in full agreement with Rauner on how to increase education funding while still cutting taxes. In fact, he said people really wouldn’t feel much difference in a tax rate of 3 or 5 percent. He said that often what’s said in a campaign doesn’t necessarily translate to what one does in office.

“That’s what he thinks he can do,” Edgar said. “I think that’s going to be difficult. That’s what he’s proposing. I don’t think he’s ever said, ‘It’s this or nothing.’ I’m not sure where he is on many issues.”

Today, Edgar appeared with the non-partisan education group Advance Illinois that released a biennial report showing the state’s funding needs. It showed the state’s public schools falling behind in some performance areas, and that the achievement gap between wealthy and poor students is widening.

And it concluded that more than half of the state’s public school students are in poverty, the largest percentage ever. Edgar says he supports the premise behind Senate Bill 16, which has passed the Senate and would call for a restructuring of the formula that determines how state education money is spent. It would result in more money for poorer school districts and less money for wealthier ones.

“You help the poorer school districts. The wealthier school districts don’t need the help,” he said. “That means the property taxpayers are going to carry the load more, but the feeling is they’re in a better position to do that.”

One bright spot -- the report shows that Chicago Public Schools have been improving reading and math scores, graduation rates, and college readiness at a much faster rate than the rest of the state, a point Mayor Rahm Emanuel lauded today in the following statement:

Congratulations to Chicago Public Schools for leading the way in Illinois in reading and math, according to an Advance Illinois study. This achievement is a testament to the hard work of our students and the dedication of the principals, teachers, and especially the parents. Our students’ accomplishment is the latest example of the progress we saw last year at CPS, including a record graduation rate of nearly 70%, a record attendance rate, record ACT scores, and a record number of freshmen who are on-track to graduate. We will continue to make the investments necessary for a high-quality education that prepares our students for success in college, career and in life.

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