Despite the storm clouds gathering over higher education in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner visited the area this week to tout his support for other education funding, calling schools “the future for the state.”
Rauner on Wednesday toured a series of vocational classes at Murphysboro High School and again stressed his aim to further support K-12 education in Illinois through increased state funding and the termination of mandates he says are overly burdensome to school districts.
“Our children and our teachers should be our top priority with our tax dollars,” Rauner said. “Other things can be cut; not schools. We’ve got a lot of unfunded mandates. We tell schools how they can outside-contract services that are not done by teachers. We tell schools how they teach PE. We tell schools how they have to teach driver’s ed. We should let schools decide for themselves.”
Rauner, touring the school during the ninth month of an historic budget impasse that has crippled the state’s higher education system, called the standoff with legislative Democrats “frustrating,” saying House Speaker Michael Madigan is to blame for the festering wounds at the state’s colleges and universities.
“We have the money there, we have special-purpose funds that are not needed in the government, and we could fund our universities right now if the legislature would let me put that money into our universities, so SIU wouldn’t have to lay off anybody, so Eastern Illinois University wouldn’t have to lay off anybody,” Rauner said. “But Speaker Madigan wants to cause a tax hike, and he’s trying to hold the school funding hostage for a tax hike.”
Responding to student questions, Rauner inevitably was confronted with the question of the budget — and whether there would be one anytime soon.
“It’s frustrating to no end that we don’t have a budget,” Rauner said. “We should have had a budget last summer. Here’s the critical issue: We’ve been having deficit spending, we’ve been having unbalanced budgets for decades. We’ve run out of money. We have the biggest unfunded pensions in America. It’s not fair to our teachers. It’s not fair to our government employees. It’s not fair to taxpayers. We’ve been running deficits for years and borrowing money to cover up our deficits.”
Rauner said that instead of relying on tax increases, the state needs to fix the structural issues that have paved the way for such fiscal chaos, which will in turn promote confidence among those who could create more jobs in the state.
Also, Rauner contended, the state needs to make drastic fixes to the state funding formula for schools that currently leaves small, rural districts at a disadvantage because of an overreliance on local property taxes to foot the bill. More fairly distributing state dollars, he said, will improve education levels across the state and in turn improve Illinois’ economic outlook.
“Illinois is dead last,” Rauner said of the state’s public education system. “We’re No. 50 out of 50 states for state support for education. We give less money to our schools than any other state in America, and that’s wrong.”