Rauner: Wage hike could bankrupt school districts

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ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Time is running out for Governor Rauner to decide the fate of a proposed minimum wage increase for teachers in Illinois, but, according to his recent comments, the bill appears in jeopardy.

“We’ve got to be careful that we don’t crush small communities that have very limited resources,” Rauner warned last week when asked if he would sign the bill. “To be told they have to pay ‘X’ may bankrupt some small school districts.”

Lawmakers sent the plan to the governor’s desk last month in a bipartisan vote. Four Senate Republicans and two others in the House joined Democrats to pass the measure which would require districts to immediately pay teachers at least $32,076 per school year. The proposed increases would peak at a minimum of $40,000 in the 2022-23 school year pending review by the General Assembly. 

Rauner would not commit to signing the plan, leaving open the possibility of a full or partial veto. 

“We’ve got to figure out a way that we can help schools pay their teachers more,” he said during a stop in Urbana. “I took the first step. I fought for more school funding for the state. I’ve got $1.4 billion more dollars flowing from the state today than when I became governor.”

The governor’s response earned quick criticism from State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill). 

“Gov. Rauner should stick to facts,” Manar said via a spokesperson. “First, this bill won’t bankrupt schools. Second, he did not take the first step to reform school funding in Illinois. That effort started prior to him even taking office. Finally, if he has a plan to reduce so-called mandates on schools so they can pay teachers more, then let’s see it. He’s had four years to produce a plan and has failed to do so.

“I would urge the governor to step back, think carefully about this bipartisan legislation and what it aims to accomplish, and sign it into law.”

Rauner has frequently criticized unfunded mandates where the state requires districts to spend money on programs or initiatives without supplying enough money to guarantee their implementation. 

Supporters of the minimum wage hike for teachers say it could also help address a shortage of qualified teachers in the state by making the job more appealing to new applicants. 

“I’ve championed our teachers,” Rauner said. “More pay. Fought for that. Now we should get the mandates off from Springfield. Stop mandating curriculum. Stop mandating how schools are run. Let teachers teach. Let principals lead. And lets get the cost structure off of our schools that Springfield brings. That will free up money and we can pay our teachers more too.”

The deadline for the governor to act on the legislation is approaching at the end of next month. 

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