State Rep. David Welter on Thursday fired back on school funding with the organizer of an Ottawa progressive group.
Welter, R-Morris, debated the issue on Facebook with Heidi Henry, of Ottawa Indivisible, which formed as part of a national network in reaction to President Donald Trump.
Thursday, Henry posted a message on The Times' Facebook page in response to a story about school funding. She directed her words at area lawmakers — Welter; Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris; and Rep. Jerry Long, R-Streator.
She said she "wondered" what they would do about school funding, which the Democratic-led Legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner have yet to resolve.
"Just dead silence coming from them or pat GOP answers bereft of solution. Just useless blather," she wrote. Rezin and Long have both issued press statements supporting the governor's decision.
Welter responded that Henry's message would be better directed at House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, whom he and Republicans blame for the state's problems.
"As I've stated I will not support the built-in Chicago Public Schools pension payment," said Welter, whose 75th District includes Seneca and other areas of eastern La Salle County. "I've given you a response, you just don't like it, and that's too damn bad."
He said he backed an education funding bill that came out of the Senate, which included a formula that would give more money to poorer schools. But he opposed the addition of special grants for Chicago's district, saying Henry wanted to make the city's schools the priority.
Henry defended Madigan.
"He has zero to do with this, and you know that, but sure throw Madigan up to deflect like you always do," said Henry, who also pens a Write Team column in The Times.
She said the bill was a bipartisan effort to move Illinois out of 50th place in school funding equity.
Welter wouldn't have it.
"Are you that blinded by your far left views that you can't see that Madigan runs the whole show down there?" he said. "Stop your preaching to me because the 75th does not support your far left extreme agenda. I can promise you that with complete confidence."
He said it was "unforgivable" for legislative Democrats to hold up the funding bill, using students across the state as "political pawns."
Also during the discussion, Henry accused Welter of being "just like every bought and paid for Rauner toady," while Welter contended Henry "lied time and time again and you never stop."
In an interview Thursday, Welter said he would be open to the state picking up the employer portion of teacher pension costs in Chicago, as the state already does with every other school district. But he said he would only support such a measure if Chicago stopped getting special grants and all other districts got the same relief from unfunded mandates that the city gets.
He also said he wanted to keep the lines of communication open with the Illinois Education Association, which typically supports Democrats. He said he has reached out to the teachers' union in recent months, but has not received a response.
When he was running, Welter said he was interviewed by the union and filled out its survey "against the wishes of my party," knowing he was unlikely to gain the union's support.
"I wish I had a relationship with the IEA," he said.