Senate expects to act Tuesday following House passage of Illinois school funding

Given a second chance, the Illinois House opted for compromise.

After initially voting against a compromise education funding reform measure that includes a school-choice scholarship program supported by Gov. Bruce Rauner, representatives reconsidered and, in a dramatic revote Monday night, approved it.

Initially, the compromise plan hammered out by top legislative leaders over the past several days was defeated after receiving only 46 of the 71 votes it needed to pass. 

In the revote, 73 lawmakers voted in favor and 34 against. Twenty Democrats and eight Republicans switched their votes from “no” or “present” to “yes.” Two other lawmakers, one Democrat and one Republican, switched from “yes” to “no.” 

Rauner thanked House Speaker Michael Madigan and Minority Leader Jim Durkin for “finding common ground that will reverse the inequities of our current school funding system.”

“Aligned with the framework provided by the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission – a bipartisan, bicameral working group chaired by the Secretary of Education – this bill has much to celebrate,” Rauner said. “First, every district in Illinois will have an adequacy target based on 27 elements brought forth through an “evidence-based model” of school funding. Second, new state funds will be distributed to ensure that those districts with the largest gap between current spending and adequacy will be funded first. Third, no district will lose state funding as compared to last year.”  

In between the two Monday votes on the compromise plan, Democrat House lawmakers attempted to override Rauner’s veto of Senate Bill 1, their initial plan that included more than $200 million annually in new state money for Chicago Public Schools’ pensions and no reforms that Rauner sought. The Senate already voted successfully to override.

The House veto override failed with 63 votes in favor and 45 against. A supermajority of 71 votes was needed for a successful override.

After the override vote failed, Rep. Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, offered a motion to reconsider the vote on the compromise plan, which passed overwhelmingly.

The compromise bill approved Monday now goes to the Senate, where a three-fifths majority is needed to approve it to send it to the governor’s desk.

The compromise plan allows for some unfunded mandate relief for schools, as well as creates a school choice plan that would give up to 6,000 lower-income students annually an opportunity to attend the private school of their choice. The compromise plan, supported by Rauner and a majority of Republicans, would allow for voluntary, tax-deductible donations, capped at $75 million annually, toward school choice scholarships.

The pilot program would expire after five years unless renewed.

The mandate relief items include allowing school districts to reduce physical education requirements to three days a week and allowing student athletes in grades 7-10 to be exempt from phys. ed. Student athletes in grades 11 and 12 already are entitled to the exemption. School districts also would be able to contract drivers’ education out to a third party without having to go through an exemption process. Other unfunded mandate waiver requests would go through an expedited review by the four legislative leaders rather than through the full General Assembly.

 “The compromise includes the much-needed flexibility for school districts through mandate relief, while providing avenues for property tax relief,” Rauner said. “It protects the rights of parents to choose the school that best meets the needs of their children – providing more school choice for children from low-income families.

In exchange, the compromise measure removes most of Rauner’s changes to SB1. Rauner’s amendatory veto stripped the bill of more than $200 million in additional funding for Chicago schools, intended to go toward its failing pension system. The compromise bill leaves that money in.

“Today we saw compromise,” Madigan said in a statement. “Instead of pitting children and communities against each other, Democrats and Republicans came to an agreement on much of what’s in this bill. And even where we don’t fully agree, we’re willing to work together in good faith and meet each other half way.”

Despite the small size of the school choice program compared to the significantly larger and permanent money the state would be sending toward Chicago Public Schools, unions aggressively fought the measure.

Only a handful of Chicago Democrats voted in favor of the compromise the first time. And although the bill received a majority of votes from Republicans, a number of them questioned the cost of the agreed plan.

“I would prefer that we cut spending to pay for this,” said state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills. “I don’t know where this money is going to come from.”  

The Senate is scheduled to be in session at 11 a.m. Tuesday, when it will likely take action on the compromise plan.

Story by the Illinois News Network. Visit ILNews.org

 

 

 

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