School reform passes, governor expected to sign

The Illinois Senate concurred Thursday with the House in a comprehensive, bipartisan K-12 school funding reform plan, and the governor is expected to sign the measure.

“I recently heard former Obama Transportation Secretary and Republican Congressman Ray LaHood say ‘Big things happen only through compromise,’” said Sen. Pat McGuire, D-Joliet. “That certainly applies to today’s passage of SB 1947, a long-overdue step toward giving every child in Illinois the opportunity to succeed based on effort, not on ZIP code.”

The compromise plan creates an evidence-based model that uses a formula to send new state education dollars to less-affluent schools that need it the most. No school districts lose money under the plan.

The measure 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 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.

Senate Bill 1947 was approved by the Senate on a vote of 38–13–4. It previously was passed by the House on Monday on a vote of 73–34–3.

Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, was one of the no votes. He said his decision wasn’t easy, and he didn’t make up his mind until during Senate debate Tuesday. McCarter said in the end, SB1947 shortchanges 54th District schools like the previous version in Senate Bill 1, and leaves taxpayers liable for yet another tax increase. He issued the following statement after the Senate session concluded:

“Senate Bill 1947 had within it some good things like a tax credit scholarship program and a little mandate relief, but in the end it ended up being a very expensive proposition to put hundreds of millions of dollars into education, a promise that I do not believe we can keep…We have an unbalanced budget of $2.6 billion and we’re promising to our schools an extra $750 million and then another $350 million on top of that, every year…”

“Everything promised doesn’t provide equity for the schools in my district compared to Chicago. There is still a huge difference in what our downstate schools get and what Chicago receives. Lastly, there was no property tax relief that applied to our districts…Again, this is a very expensive proposition that I believe is going to require another tax increase and I will not be a part of putting more burden on the taxpayers of this state, who are already challenged to get by with the last tax increase.”

Gov. Rauner statement on Senate vote

“Today, members of the Illinois Senate voted in favor of legislation that will bring historic education reform to Illinois children and their families. First, I would like to thank Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady and other members for working together to close the gap on school funding and making sure every child across the state will have access to the best education.

“For far too long, too many low-income students in our state have been trapped in underfunded, failing schools. The system needed to change. We have changed it. We have put aside our differences and put our kids first. It’s a historic day for Illinois.

“Our leaders worked together to provide school choice protection for parents who want the best education possible for their children. This is accomplished by ensuring that district-authorized charter schools receive equal funding, and by providing families with limited financial resources the same access to private schools. The Tax Credit Scholarship program encourages individuals and businesses to enable families to choose the school that best meets the needs of their children.

“This compromise also provides much-needed mandate relief for school districts and presents avenues for property tax relief. School districts will be given flexibility in how they schedule physical education curriculum and how they administer driver’s education curriculum. In more affluent school districts, this bill provides taxpayers with a chance to lower their property taxes through the referendum process.

“This is just the beginning of transforming education funding. I want Illinois to be the No. 1 state in the nation for education. Nothing is more important than educating our children.”

Haine votes for measure

Metro East school districts will see an increase in state aid thanks to a school funding compromise, Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, said.

He voted for the measure.

“For years, Illinois has had the least equitable school funding system in the nation,” Haine said. “Today’s vote in the Senate brings us one step closer to replacing a broken formula with one that would ensure all Metro East schools get the funding they need to provide a quality education to their students. I urge the governor to sign this historic overhaul of our school funding system.”

Senate Bill 1947 creates an evidence-based school funding model that accounts for factors such as number of students with disabilities, English language learners and low-income students when determining a school’s adequacy level and how much funding is needed to reach adequacy.

Several local school districts are expected to see seven-figure bumps in funding under SB 1947, he said.

The bill includes hold-harmless language, which guarantees that no schools would receive less money than they received in the past and provides extra support for the neediest school districts by offering them property tax relief, he said.

 

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