Smile Politely

Governor Rauner, the manipulator

The recent increased public awareness of the federal government and the passage of a new state budget last month might lead one to believe that things are finally starting to settle down in Springfield – but as we found out this week, Governor Rauner has no intention to pull Illinois away from the brink of crisis. Instead, as one issue gets resolved, Rauner opens up a new can of worms. Next up on his chopping block? School funding.

Two days ago, Governor Rauner vetoed SB1, a school funding bill that sought to reform the way districts are funded in Illinois.

If you’re unfamiliar with how schools are funded in Illinois, here’s the over-simplified gist: funding is based on property taxes, and as such, varies widely by district. New Trier’s public schools, for example, which are located north of Chicago in Lake County, are some of the most well-funded facilities in the country, because property taxes are so high in Wilmette and Winnetka. Conversely, a school district like, say, Danville, receives proportionally less in funding due to the lower property tax rate there.

This is a pretty clear example of the rich getting richer, while the poor (who are children in this instance) suffer for no reason other than their physical location. It’s inequity to the highest degree. It’s broken.

SB1, the education bill that Governor Rauner vetoed yesterday, would not have cut funding for any school district in Illinois – instead, it would have provided more resources to districts that have more low-income students as a way of levelling the very unfair system in place at present.

Which brings us to the next part of Governor Rauner’s attacks: Chicago Public Schools, where 80.2% of the students are impoverished. The new funding bill would hypothetically see CPS get a 20% boost in funding, as well as the partial funding of their pension system, which was unfairly dubbed as a “bailout” by Governor Rauner.

This is where things really start to get disgusting.

What Governor Rauner is trying to do has been done before – it’s the classic downstate vs. Chicago argument that has stoked animosity from those in Central Illinois before.

In reality, here’s what seems pretty clear: Rauner is using school funding as a tool to stoke this divide between Chicago and the rest of the state. This, in turn, will lead to more votes and give him the only conceivable path to re-election he could have. After all, his approval ratings are lower than President Trump’s right now.

By assuming that downstate Illinois residents’ annoyance with Chicago is enough to win them over, even with the absence of a tangible plan or solution, the Governor is engaging in manipulation to the highest degree. It’s the same kind of manipulation that elevated a reality TV star to the Presidency – turning the population against certain groups without any sort of valid justification.

Realistically, many downstate school districts would see a boost in funding from SB1. In fact, many Superintendents, from Canton to DuQuoin, have been calling on the Governor to sign SB1, though he still is hell bent on depicting the bill as a Chicago vs. Downstate battle, where it clearly does not exist.

In fact, according to The News-Gazette, nine different area school districts (including Urbana School District #116) have less than 100 days of funding left.

In a conversation yesterday, Dr. Don Owen, Superintendent of Urbana Public Schools, confirmed this figure, calling it “fairly accurate”. Though Urbana has a few caveats, including money owed to them by the State of Illinois that could hypothetically show up at any time. He also expressed disappointment in the Governor’s veto, as many school administrators all over the state have echoed.

““The veto of SB1 reinforces the concept that public education is not valued in the Governor’s office,” Owens said. “The Governor is more concerned with political agendas than he is with school funding or reaching an equitable solution for all of Illinois’ students.”

When asked what will happen as cash reserves in Urbana start to run out, Dr. Owen was hopeful, saying that USD 116 will do everything in their legal power to remain open as long as possible, but in an absolute worst-case scenario, Urbana schools may have to close their doors early this year.

If this happens, make no mistake, it is because of the Governor’s insistence to use children as pawns in a political game. Nothing if off limits to this guy. Remember when he held Lincoln’s Challenge Academy hostage? How about R.A.C.E.S. or Courage Connection? 

I guess I don’t know what I expected from the man who has held hundreds (if not thousands) of public employees and vital social services hostage without funding for years in the name of privatization, cuts the g’s off of his verbs when he’s downstate to sound more folksy and constantly blames his pitfalls on the Speaker of the House. This is merely par for the course for Governor Rauner.

It’s despicable to think that us downstate folk can be so blind as to not support equality. I want low-income students all over the state to have equal access to good public education. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t want that. It has nothing to do with Chicago vs. the rest of us, yet Rauner continues, hoping to manipulate us into votes. It’s offensive. Our community and our state deserve a leader who believes in us more than that. Our children deserve better. Our teachers deserve better. Everyone deserves better.

See you in 2018, Bruce.

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