HERRIN - Governor Bruce Rauner visited with students at Herrin Middle School on Tuesday to answer their questions about education.
"Education is the most important thing we do as a community, and it is a primary reason I ran for governor," Rauner said. Rauner's tour was led by members of the Student Council: Kelsey King, Keaton Rosado, and Delaney LaCroix.
After visiting the three classes taught by Susan Dennison, Ruby Mallow, and Amanda Borders, Rauner held a short question-and-answer session with the student body, where he was asked about a variety of topics, including Common Core.
"I believe that local schools and local school districts should have control of the curriculum that they want to use to teach," Rauner said. "I believe we should get regulations and mandates and restrictions off of the schools. Let teachers teach, and school districts structure themselves the way they want, to do what"s best for their students."
While speaking with students, the governor also stressed the importance of a strong economy and job market in Illinois as a "priority" for his office.
"So when you get done with school, and you work really hard and learn everything you can, and you come out of school, you can be whatever you want to be in Illinois," Rauner said. "Whatever you want to be, you can be it in Illinois."
One student asked Rauner about the accuracy of reports that say the majority of education funding in Illinois for grades K-12 is going to schools in northern Illinois and the Chicagoland area.
"One of the things we"re working to do is make sure we have fair, equitable school funding," Rauner said. The governor explained that the state has one of the biggest gaps in funding between low-income and high-income school districts.
"That means that many students don"t have the same quality of education, the teachers don"t get the support they deserve. We"re working to help put more funding into all schools, not just some schools, not just in some communities."
While discussing funding, Rauner also brought up the importance of supporting teachers and public education.
"We"re one of the bottom states in America, for state support of teachers and for funding schools," Rauner explained to the students. "I"m trying to change that. We"re getting funding from the state into our schools to support our teachers, so that we can have the best schools in America."
The funding in question may be coming from a recent report from the bipartisan Governor"s School Funding Commission. The report includes a framework that allows the members of the General Assembly to create a new formula for funding schools.
Rauner discussed the importance of this report during a press conference at the school.
"The way the dollars are allocated isn"t fair," Rauner said. "We need to change that system, and I applaud the members of the General Assembly who came together.
"We need to have our teachers be the top priority in our budgeting process. When we spend a taxpayer dollar, it should go to education first."
Rauner also spoke on the concerns over the animosity in the statehouse, which many believe is hindering budget negotiations.
"The senators are working to get a compromise. I hope they get it done tonight…I"d like to get that done as soon as possible," Rauner said. "We have to listen and respect each other to have a compromise."
The governor also addressed the ongoing budget crisis in the state.
"We haven"t had a balanced budget in Illinois for more than 30 years. We either don"t pay our pensions, we don"t pay our bills, or we borrow in the bond market. We"ve never had a balanced budget," Rauner said.
"We"re going to have balanced budgets in the future, but the only way they"re going to stay balanced is if our economy is growing fast or faster than our government spending. That"s just simple math.
"I share the frustration of everyone in the state that we don"t have a balanced budget and we haven"t made changes," Rauner said. "We should have gotten this done 18 months ago or two years ago."
On the federal side of issues, Rauner discussed his work history with the office of the president with students, and his thoughts going into the beginning of President Trump"s first term.
"It"s in the interest of the people of Illinois that the governor of Illinois work with the federal government administration. So we"re going to work very close to make sure the people of Illinois are represented, and that when school funding comes, we get our fair share of funding," Rauner said.
Federal funding of education has been in the spotlight, with the appointment of the Secretary of Education to the Cabinet of President Trump.
Earlier in the day, the United States Senate (with a tie broken by Vice President Mike Pence) voted to approve Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education.
Rauner, who supports DeVos as secretary, attempted to assuage fears by saying, "I personally believe there should be choice of schools for all parents, regardless of if they have much money or not. Every family should be able to choose the school that fits their child the best, regardless of their income.
"I think there"s probably some overblown emotion around this appointment, and much that"s going on in the federal government. What we can do in Illinois is make sure we support our public schools to the utmost degree, and we have not done that," the governor said. "Let"s focus on what we can do. Let"s have the best schools in Illinois ourselves, we can control that. The federal government stuff will take care of itself."