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Illinois Superintendents Urge Gov. Rauner to Act on Education Funding

UPDATED

Fifteen Illinois superintendents wrote to Gov. Bruce Rauner on Monday warning that most of the districts in the state will not be able to open in the fall and accusing the governor of playing politics with school funding and pitting districts against districts.

"We expect the Governor of the entire state to rise above political games to put all of our children's futures before politics," the superintendents wrote. "However, instead of suggesting reforms that reflect the economic diversity of Illinois, your proposal continues to put a greater burden on the districts supporting our most vulnerable students."

The superintendents said that Rauner's recent education funding proposal "maintains the failed status quo of Illinois' outdated funding formula."  The formula, they argue, is broken, inequitable, and punishes the state's low-income students.

The signatories to the letter included superintendents from Chicago Public Schools, Peoria Public Schools, West Aurora School District 129, Granite City Community School District, and East Moline School District.

Illinois ended its fiscal year last week without a state budget or a separate standalone education spending plan to fund schools

Last week, Chicago school district CEO Forrest Claypool said that Chicago and many other districts will not open in the fall without a state education budget. 

The group of superintendents repeated that sentiment in the June 6 letter, saying that the majority of school districts will not be able to open their doors next school year—and, if they did, it wouldn't be long before they'd have to close again.

"This is a disaster that plagues districts across Illinois; it is not a Downstate vs. Chicago, or city vs. suburban issue, but rather a statewide problem," they wrote. "And as superintendents of school districts whose students will suffer the gravest consequences, it is our shared concern."

The letter urged the governor to work with the General Assembly to devise a solution that "fully and equitably funds all of the districts in your state." 

[UPDATE: 5:17 p.m.): While discussing the possible impacts of the state budget impasse on school districts on Monday, Rauner likened some of Chicago's schools to "crumbling prisons."

"The simple fact is that when you look objectively at the state of Chicago Public Schools, many of them are inadequate. Many of them are woeful, and some are just tragic," the Chicago Sun-Times quoted Rauner as saying.  "Many of them are basically almost crumbling prisons. They're not a place a young person should be educated."

Rauner also blamed state Democrats for refusing to compromise on a balanced budget.

In response to Rauner's comment, CPS' Claypool and Janice Jackson, the district's chief education officer, demanded that the governor apologize for "his hurtful, divisive, and inflammatory rhetoric."

"Frankly, the Governor's comments comparing Chicago schools to 'crumbling prisons' are disrespectful and beneath his office," they wrote in a statement.  "In Chicago, our students' remarkable achievements—in their graduation rate, in their ACT scores, in their college enrollment, in elementary reading and math—have come because of their hard work, and they deserve our support. Instead, their own governor is bad-mouthing them, de-funding them and demeaning everything that they have accomplished."

For good measure, the district attached a fact sheet to the statement, highlighting gains in ACT scores, graduation rates, and on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nation's Report Card.]

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