Gov. Rauner pushes education funding plans during stop at Peoria school

Feb 23, 2016

Gov. Bruce Rauner stops in a cosmetology class during his tour of Woodruff Career and Technical Center in Peoria.
Credit Cass Herrington / Peoria Public Radio

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner visited a vocational school in Peoria to plug his education plans Tuesday.

This wasn’t Rauner’s first time speaking to a group of students studying how to style hair:  

“I went to a barbering school in Springfield, and I got a student who was just six months in," Rauner said. "He did pretty good.”

But the governor’s visit to Woodruff Career and Technical Center was an opportunity to pitch his education ideas to students, teachers and school district officials.

Among the changes are a newly-formed cabinet focused on children and proposals to remove unfunded mandates and to put more state money into schools.

“Changing the government’s hard, takes a little time," Rauner told the class of mostly minority students. "We’re working on our budget right now, it’s frustrating to me that we don’t really have a budget. What I’ve said is no matter what else happens, the one thing we’ve got to do is increase state support for education.”

Rauner says he wants  to put more general funds -- to the tune of about 55 million dollars -- toward Illinois schools.

But Democratic lawmakers say simply funneling more money would only widen the funding and achievement gaps between rich and poor school districts. Democrats, led by Sen. Andy Manar, say Illinois first needs to rewrite the state’s education funding formula -- and use money that goes to wealthy districts to support struggling ones. The current formula is largely based on property taxes.

Gov. Rauner says the Democrats’ argument is a ploy to bail out Chicago Public Schools.

“That’s what’s really going on. They’re spinning it as somehow, the system’s broken and it’s my fault. I didn’t create this system," Rauner said. "This got created by the democrats and Speaker Madigan 20 years ago.”

But it’s not just Chicago that would benefit from a revised formula. Peoria’s Public School District is endorsing Manar’s legislation. School Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat says it’s more “equitable.”

“Basically it lends itself to providing more support to needy districts, districts with individuals or students who are high need," Desmoulin-Kherat said. "So we are definitely in support of that.”

Three quarters of Peoria Public School students are low-income. And the district is operating with a more than 8 million dollar deficit.

Desmoulin-Kherat says, however, the district does support the Governor’s pitch to remove unfunded mandates. She says that would allow tradespeople to come into technical and career schools and teach -- without the red tape of state-mandated credentials to lead classroom.

And that means the governor could get a better haircut during his next visit to a vocational school.