by Félix Pérez
Voters have spoken, and the table is set to decide who will be the next governor of Illinois. Longtime early education advocate J.B. Pritzker will face off against Bruce Rauner, the embattled incumbent.
Pritzker won the March 20 Democratic primary with 45 percent of the vote; his closest competitor had 26 percent. Rauner, a Republican, won 51 percent-49 percent.
Rauner began this year much the way he’s governed the last three years: creating chaos. In this case, he vetoed an education funding formula bill because he said it did not allow three dozen private schools to participate in a new school voucher program.
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While Rauner eventually signed the education funding formula into law, his action was the latest in his tenure to plunge the state’s public schools into upheaval by making them wait even longer for funding. Rauner’s failure to draw up a balanced budget in 2015, in 2016 and 2017, despite his clams to the contrary, led the independent fact-checking organization Poltifact to give a “pants on fire” rating to his statement “I have introduced balanced budgets every year that I’ve been governor.”
A columnist for the Daily Illini tallied the human cost of Rauner’s governing style this way: “During the two-and-a-half-year budget stalemate, inner city after-school programs were stopped, mental health and rehabilitation facilities, which save the state costs in the long run, were closed and higher education funding was slashed heavily — so much so that some universities were on the verge of shutting down, causing incredible detriment to the communities and the students within them.”
Rauner’s most recent opportunity to put education funding on a more stable, equitable footing was the budget he unveiled last month (Illinois ranks 50th among states in its share of K-12 funding). According to teacher and Illinois Education President Kathi Griffin, Rauner is “choosing to leave the students of Illinois, our state’s future, behind” with his budget. Griffin said:
Gov. Bruce Rauner today unleashed his latest attack on public education and the students of Illinois. During his budget address, the governor claimed he would give more money to education, but the pension costs he wants to shift to school districts and our public universities will starve our schools. Instead of giving our education systems the money they’re in desperate need of after suffering through a Rauner-inflicted, two-year budget stalemate, the governor wants to hand schools all across the state a massive bill.
Rauner’s likely opponent in the general election, J.B Pritzker, a decades-long activist and advocate for early education, wants to move the state away from viewing education as a budget expenditure. “Education is an investment, not an expense.”
Pritzker’s views on education funding was one of the reasons he was recommended in the Democratic primary for governor by the 135,000-member IEA this month. “It was Pritzker’s strong commitment to funding K-12 education, his promise to invest in higher education, his pledge to protect collective bargaining rights and his willingness to enact a progressive income tax that matched our goals for public education in Illinois,” said educator and IEA President Griffin.
Pritzker and his wife M.K. are funding a research-based policy initiative to “promote high quality early learning and development.” The early childhood education initiative is partnering with several national organizations that have strong community ties to enhance local support for children from birth to age three and their families. The Pritzkers put up $6.5 million to support a one-year pilot. As an extension of his 20 years advocating for access to high-quality early education, Pritzker has proposed a comprehensive birth-to-five educational system so every child has the opportunity to achieve his or her full potential.