Illinois’ Rauner Cites Education Challenges in State of the State Address


Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner highlighted education in his State of the State address this week, citing the need to improve schools while tackling difficult debt and policy challenges.

"We are committed to eliminating wasteful bureaucracy, putting more money into classrooms," the governor began. He then detailed ten long-term goals to improve the state's education system, including supporting early childhood education more robustly and creating new schools for students who have dropped out.

His remarks come at a time of rising tensions between Chicago public school teachers and the city government. As city officials attempt to ameliorate a deficit through cuts in education, the public school teachers union has threatened to retaliate, raising the possibility of a strike. One point of contention is the disproportionate level of funding provided to Chicago public-school students, who comprise 20% of Illinois's student population but receive 15% of the overall funding. State officials, particularly Republicans, who have a contentious relationship with teachers' unions, want to achieve a more equitable distribution of the resources allocated for students.

Governor Rauner, a Republican himself, touched on this idea during his address. As reported by Mike Riopell of the Daily Herald, the governor said that Illinois should focus "additional resources more on low-income and rural school districts so we can provide high classrooms in every community without taking money away from other districts." Tellingly, Governor Rauner reframed a current proposal supported by Democrats and teachers unions that would offer poorer schools more money by reallocating funds from richer ones.

The Governor also urged lawmakers to develop meaningful standards that chart students' academic progress. In doing so, he mentioned the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing that critics charge is a poor barometer of student success. The Governor implored lawmakers to "develop a comprehensive, consistent, objective student growth measure, not necessarily based on the PARCC system, so we can track out students progress in each grade toward college or career."

Governor Rauner immediately received criticism over his proposed policies. The President of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Dan Montgomery, rejected Rauner's "toxic ideas," and, according to Krista Burris of Our QuadCities, two superintendents want the state to go ahead with the current plan to avoid delays in funding. Illinois lawmakers missed the June deadline to pass a budget, and its prospect of a still hangs in limbo. The governor's proposals could ignite new battles over the source of funds and further belabor the already rocky negotiations.

The budget impasse has had a noticeable impact on students' lives. For example, Teen Reach, a statewide after-school program, shut down over a dozen of its sites citing a lack of funding. These cutbacks have incited the ire of community activists. Writing for Public News Service, Brandon Campbell reports that groups like Grassroots Collaborative, Pew Charitable Trusts and Reboot Illinois have been raising awareness about what they see as the state's unsatisfactory and lackadaisical approach to education.

Scott Greenberger, the executive editor at Pew, concluded that, "there's going to be a lot of pressure on Governor Rauner and legislators to figure something out."

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