It’s Only Fair
Gov. Rauner’s principled opposition to SB 1
August 2, 2017
For decades, Illinois's antiquated school aid formula cheated schoolkids living in poorer districts.It took years of dogged jawboning to reform that formula to the satisfaction of a majority of legislators, but Gov. Rauner threatened to veto the bill as passed. The episode was typical of the way he handled major legislation both politically and philosophically.
In the end, lawmakers of both parties overrode Rauner's veto and the new system took effect.
Sooner or later, every rookie reporter must face the ugly facts: Somewhere, sometime, there will be a school board meeting she will have to cover. A veteran opinion monger like me faces a similar dilemma. As he seeks to meet readers’ demands for wisdom on a deadline, he must occasionally write about education funding. The fingers grow numb, the spirit rebels. But public schools matter, and state funding matters to public schools.
At issue at the moment is the fate Senate Bill 1. Bruce Rauner says he will veto or rewrite it in ways that would kill at birth a new formula that would finally remedy decades-old inequities in the way the state parcels out school aid. Under the proposed new scheme—which exists in large part because of the mulish persistence of state senator Andy Manar, the pride of Bunker Hill—every local school district would get what it gets now, but districts with lots of low-income kids would get more. Also, the state would start funding Chicago Public Schools’ teacher pension and retiree health insurance costs, which costs are already being paid for every other district in the state by the State of Illinois.
Bills like SB1 are why representative government was invented, being complex by nature and thus beyond easy comprehension by the booboisie. Rauner, who has a well-thumbed copy of The ALEC Guide to the Propaganda Arts on his bed table, has tried help out us dim bulbs by reducing the debate to three words: “Chicago,” “Madigan” (Downstate dialect for “Chicago”), and “bailout.”
Specifically, the governor and his backup singers refer to the Democrat-backed SB 1 as “a massive taxpayer funded Chicago bailout” because, as noted, the state would henceforth take responsibility for funding Chicago teacher pensions like it does for every other district. Unmentioned is the fact that the State of Illinois has been “bailing out” Downstate school districts since just after Lincoln’s horse died. The state does so by paying their share of their teachers pension costs while Chicago taxpayers paid not only their own teachers’ pension costs but (through their state taxes) those in other districts too.
Rauner insists this is throwing good money after bad, because CPS has mismanaged its pension programs, and as his stewardship of the executive branch shows, Bruce Rauner knows mismanagement when he sees it. But as Crain’s excellent Greg Hinz has pointed out, the state’s Teachers’ Retirement System, into which state taxpayers pour billions, has only 39.8 percent of the assets needed to pay expected liabilities compared to CPS’s 52.4 percent, so Downstate and suburban systems have, collectively, managed their money even worse.
There are other bits too. (It’s all so complicated that the governor needs to pay people to explain it for him—and to him, judging by his remarks about it.) The larger thrust of the changes affecting Chicago is to begin putting CPS on the same funding basis as the rest of the state. Rauner argues that fixing past unfairness is unfair, and has said he wants to take that money and hand it out instead to suburban and Downstate districts, thus bailing them out at CPS’s expense. I am heartened by the number of Downstate school superintendents who have said that they oppose this. (District 186’s Jennifer Gill is one; she backs SB 1 as written.)
I get that Chicago-bashing thrills his natural constituency, the rubes, and thus a veto might boost his approval rating from today’s eight percent to nine, maybe even ten percent. But Illinoisans are not all rubes. Such action is not in the electoral interests of either what’s left of the old Republican Party or the new, bought-and-paid-for Rauner Party, with which the GOP is in an alliance of convenience. It is, however, consistent with his agenda.
I have spent as much as ten minutes at a time thinking about Sir Rauner and his quest to deliver our innocent children from the hands of organized predators on the public purse—that is, unionized school teachers. I believe he understands, and accepts, that life is unfair. Not everyone does. Labor unions, for example, make it possible for those unfairly born on the bottom to organize themselves to take back some of the property, power, and privilege enjoyed by those unfairly born on the top. Rauner-ish libertarians in contrast are convinced that remedying unfairness as an aim of social policy —the bedrock of liberal social thought—is inimical, if not immoral. They don’t oppose fairness because it is cheered by liberals. They oppose liberals because they are cheered by the hope of fairness. And fairness is the point of SB 1. ●