Educators pressure Illinois lawmakers over school funding

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CHICAGO (AP) — Educators on Wednesday amped up the pressure on Illinois leaders for more school and university funding with protests in Springfield and fierce criticism of Gov. Bruce Rauner by the head of the Chicago Teachers Union.

More than 1,000 people — teachers, retirees, union members and activists from Chicago and elsewhere — marched from the Capitol to highlight a 10-month budget standoff that's forced higher education layoffs and the anticipated closure of Chicago State University. They called for support of a proposal to replace Illinois' flat income tax with one to make the wealthiest residents pay more, saying the revenue will help universities and social services operating without state money.

In Chicago, CTU President Karen Lewis blasted the first-term Republican governor for his role in the standoff and moves to curb union influence, comments that come as the union is locked in contentious contract negotiations with nation's third-largest school district.

"Rauner is the new ISIS recruit," she said referring to the Islamic State group, during a City Club of Chicago speech. "Because the things he's doing looks like acts of terror on poor and working-class people."

Rauner's office immediately objected to the comments.

"This kind of rhetoric has no place in American public discourse and sets a terrible example for our kids," Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said in a statement.

Rauner and legislative Democrats are deadlocked over a budget for the fiscal year that began in July. Rauner wants pro-business reforms. Democrats, who want a tax increase, object to Rauner's ideas such as collective bargaining changes.

Rauner, who last year approved money for public schools, says his proposed spending plan would allocate $120 million more for them next year. However, under his blueprint universities are expected to see cuts and CPS could lose $74 million while experiencing a $1 billion deficit, which Chicago district officials rallied against Tuesday.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are also considering Democrat-backed proposals for a graduated income tax and an overhaul of Illinois' outdated school funding formula.

Lewis said teachers are preparing for a strike as early as May. On Saturday, CTU rejected a neutral arbitrator's recommendation that it accept a district contract, which started a 30-day clock for when the union can give notice of a strike. The issues include pension payments and raises.

Chicago schools CEO Forrest Claypool asked Lewis on Wednesday to use binding arbitration in lieu of a strike, which CTU officials dismissed as a "publicity stunt."


Lisenby reported from Springfield.

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