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State

Illinois education secretary stepping down

Purvis' last day will be Friday

Beth Purvis
Beth Purvis

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's education secretary is leaving for the private sector, a departure that comes just weeks after he cut a deal with Democrats to overhaul the way Illinois distributes money to public schools.

Beth Purvis first joined Rauner as a member of his transition staff before he took office in January 2015. Rauner frequently referred to Purvis and other hires as a "superstar" collective that would help bring change to Illinois government.

While those efforts often hit the roadblock of political realities in Springfield, Purvis was instrumental to helping craft a deal on education spending. Purvis chaired a commission the governor convened to study ways to overhaul the state's funding formula, which many argued was unfair and did not provide enough money to poorer school districts.

Though that commission did not recommend specific legislation, Purvis acted as a key negotiator and adviser as legislators used findings from the group to propose various plans.

When Democrats pushed through a proposal at the end of May, Purvis took some heat for declaring in a Springfield newspaper that Rauner supported "90 percent" of the plan. Democrats contended that should be enough for the governor to sign the proposal, which he later vetoed, saying it contained too much money for Chicago.

Purvis kept a relatively low profile after Rauner's amendatory veto, which was rejected by Republicans and Democrats alike as being too broad. Many of the changes Rauner inserted into the bill were ideas long pushed by the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank Rauner tapped for new staff members after dumping some longtime aides earlier in the summer.

Faced with the prospect that Republicans could bolt and cut another deal with Democrats, Rauner ended up signing a different bill into law that included hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid to Chicago Public Schools that Rauner had spent the summer calling a "bailout."

Purvis drew praise from legislators on both sides of the aisle for helping shepherd through that law.

"Beth has been a tireless advocate for Illinois children and families," Rauner said in a statement Monday. "We are deeply grateful for her efforts."

Purvis, whose last day is Friday, will oversee educational philanthropy at a nonprofit organization.

"It has been a privilege for me to work with Gov. Rauner and his team," Purvis said. "I am proud of what we have accomplished and know that his administration will continue to ensure that Illinois children have access to high-quality programs that will prepare them to be engaged community members with meaningful and rewarding careers."

Emily Bastedo, who previously served as Illinois first lady Diana Rauner's chief of staff, will oversee the governor's education policy team.

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©2017 the Chicago Tribune

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