Senate passes Illinois school funding compromise


It's a compromise, containing most of the plan Democrats proposed months ago, plus a new $75 million program that would provide tax credits to organizations offering private school scholarships.

Lawmakers voted 73-34 to send the legislation to the Senate, where a vote is expected Tuesday.

Southern Illinois lawmakers don't call the bill they passed Monday night "perfect" but said it will get the job done.

The house then held an override vote on Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of an earlier version of an education-funding bill - but that effort fell short.

Supporters, though, argued that lawmakers should focus on the larger goal of the bill: invest more money into schools over time, with the most money first going to the poorest districts.

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"This took months and months of hard negotiations", Rauner said after a mariachi band performed and celebratory speeches, including from a top Democrat.

Rep. Will Davis, the Homewood Democrat who carried the bill, was proud of the final product. He said it helps IL take another step toward "continuing to be a welcome state". Although school officials have said they will be able to open classrooms for the new school year, many districts have anxious they would run out of money if a plan wasn't approved soon.

House Speaker Michael Madigan said the bipartisan bill provided the same permanent promise of more funding for schools contained in the vetoed bill.

But exactly how much more money local school districts will receive remains unclear. No school district will lose money under this plan.

The plan approved Monday was negotiated by legislative leaders in closed-door meetings throughout recent days.

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The legislation also provides money to help Chicago Public Schools make payments to its teacher pension funds, as IL does for other districts, and gives districts relief from some state mandates, such as allowing them to offer fewer days of physical education each week. However, he is disappointed with the last minute addition of the tax break for those giving to private school scholarships. "I know that I had one school that indicated to me that they would be closing sometime around the third week in September if they didn't get this funding".

"It's interesting that the one way to fund public schools today hinges on whether we will provide a tax credit shelter for people who have the money to fund parochial education that is an interesting question on the floor today" said Representative Carol Ammons, D-Champaign. The money may be donated to a specific school but not a specific student.

Scholarships would be available to assist the tuition of students with a household income of less than $72,900 for a family of four, a figure that would rise to $97,200 the following year if a student had previously gotten a scholarship.

Governor Bruce Rauner has already vowed to sign the bill, which will move IL to an "evidence-based model" of education funding, taking into account each district's individual needs, as well as its local revenue sources, when appropriating state aid - prioritizing districts that are furthest from being fully-funded.

Teacher unions opposed the credits, saying taxpayer money shouldn't be used toward private schools.

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