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Illinois governor calls another special session on education

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. Bruce Rauner called for a special legislative session on Monday after lawmakers ignored his noon deadline for sending him public education-funding legislation with just weeks before the scheduled opening of schools.

Rauner issued the summons for lawmakers to return to the Capitol beginning Wednesday after he held a news conference in Chicago to accuse Democrats who control the General Assembly of holding school children “hostage” to their political agenda.

“The Democrats in the majority are playing political games with our children’s education,” he told reporters, while again promising to change the legislation with an amendatory veto. “They seem to be intent on holding up school funding until August when schools need to open.”

Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago, whose chamber never sent Rauner the legislation for fear he would veto it without review, claimed in a statement Monday that Rauner is confused about what the legislation does and has given conflicting messages about it.

“I’d like to have a conversation with Gov. Rauner in hopes of getting some clarity as to exactly what is going on,” Cullerton said in a statement. “We slowed down the process in the Senate in order to let everyone blow off some steam, politically speaking.”

The legislation would revise the way schools receive state aid for the first time in two decades. The method funnels money to the neediest school districts first after ensuring that no district receives less money than last school year. That includes a $250 million-a-year grant for Chicago schools for programs funded separately in other districts and a requirement that the state pick up the annual, $215 million employer portion of Chicago teachers’ pensions.

Rauner contends the $250 million grant was meant to help pay retirement-account costs — something Chicago officials and proponents of the plan reject — and so the extra money is a “bailout” for past pension-payment shortfalls.

Democrats are holding the measure to build pressure, according to House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Westchester.

“The Democrats want to create and manufacture a school-funding crisis,” said Durkin, who appeared with Rauner in Chicago. “I want all schools funded fairly. I want all schools opening on time. We are going to open schools on time. The Democrats cannot stay silent on this issue. Send the bill to the governor.”

Rauner produced a list last week that showed an amendatory veto of the legislation, known as SB1, would cut $145 million from Chicago schools and distribute it to other districts across the state. But he has not explained who did the analysis or how the numbers were crunched. He declined, when asked on Monday, to explain what changes he would make with the amendatory veto.

“We need it on my desk and you will see. They don’t want me to be able to (make an) amendatory veto (on) it,” Rauner said. “They want to create a crisis and just say, ‘There’s no discussion, there’s no more time, there’s nothing to debate. It’s over. If schools want to open on time, only SB1 in its current form.’ That’s unfair.”

Lawmakers ended a two-year budget stalemate earlier this month and approved a spending plan over Rauner’s objections. However, the plan requires Rauner to distribute school aid through a revised method.