Illinois House passes school funding bill on second try

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- The Illinois House has approved a new school funding plan on a second attempt, minutes after lawmakers failed to override Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's changes to a separate plan preferred by teacher unions.

Lawmakers voted 73-34 Monday to send the legislation to the Senate. A vote could occur in that chamber as early as Tuesday.

"We're happy that we actually achieved something, the four of us, the four leaders with the governor, not just something but probably the most significant piece of legislation out of this chamber in decades," said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin.

The measure increases funding for school districts and distributes the money in a way lawmakers say is more equitable. It also provides $75 million for tax credits for people who donate to private school scholarships. That part of the bill came under sharp criticism from some democrats concerned about money being diverted from public education.

"The nose is under the camel's tent now, and I'm very concerned about the prospect of this money only growing and more and more, over the years, of our public dollars being diverted away," said Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago).

Teacher unions opposed the tax credit, and many lawmakers from both parties said it was the reason they voted no on the measure Monday afternoon. But after they were unable to override the changes Rauner made last month on the other legislation, the new bill was called again and passed.

Lawmakers voted initially 46 yes, 61 no on the new bill, a plan that would have provided general state aid to districts for the first time this academic year. The measure needed 71 yes votes.

The state has already missed two payments because the school funding bill has been caught up in the House.
Senate Bill 1 was passed by the State Senate and House of Representatives over the summer, but it was vetoed by Rauner. The Senate overrode his veto. The House failed to override his veto, with a vote of 63 yes and 45 no.

"It was not a perfect plan, certainly, everyone was unhappy, but that was really a sign here that it was probably the right spot for the compromise," said Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard).

"An imperfect bill, but a bill that will enable to stay open and there's nothing more important than that in our state," said Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie).

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement regarding the approved funding plan:

"The Illinois House took a significant step tonight by passing an education funding plan that provides parity and stability for children across Illinois. I want to thank Speaker Madigan, Leader Durkin, Rep. Will Davis and the bipartisan group of legislators who put politics aside to address decades of inequity. As a new school year begins, students and educators deserve peace of mind. We are hopeful the Senate will take action and Governor Rauner will sign this historic legislation to support the education of children throughout Illinois."

Illinois Network of Charter Schools President Andrew Broy released a statement:

"The Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS) applauds the Illinois House of Representatives for doing the right thing and passing a bill that provides fair funding for children across the state-whether they live in Champaign, Collinsville, or Chicago. INCS has always supported a funding system that more accurately reflects actual need and allocates additional funding for low-income districts, which is what this bill does. We look forward to the Senate following suit, and Governor Rauner signing this historic legislation that will give all children the resources they deserve to be successful in the classroom."

The Illinois Federation of Teachers released a statement:

"Tonight, state legislators moved Illinois closer to doing what we have needed to do for decades - treat our poorest students and communities fairly. Unfortunately, it came at a very disappointing cost. Governor Rauner capitalized on the crisis he created when he vetoed the original bill and used it as leverage for private school tax credits that benefit the wealthy while working families continue to struggle. We're on a better path toward equity and adequacy, and we must move forward in our classrooms and communities. But it's clearer than ever that this Governor does not prioritize public schools, and we must fight for one who does in 2018."

The Chicago Teachers Union released a statement:

"Tonight's vote for a voucher scheme for the state of Illinois is disappointing, and the worst assault on public education since mayoral control of schools was granted in 1995. We are now firmly in line with the President Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos privatization agenda. Illinois legislators have voted to 'reform' the worst school funding system in the country with a ticking time bomb of a voucher scheme, and the Illinois Democratic Party has crossed a line which no spin or talk of 'compromise' can ever erase. The Illinois Senate votes tomorrow. We urge them to reject vouchers and keep public funds for public schools, and not a tax break for the wealthy."

Democratic candidate for governor JB Pritzker released a statement, saying in part, ""I am relieved to know that our schools will be funded using an equitable school funding formula, but it is disappointing that Bruce Rauner used our students as pawns in his political games to get a back-door voucher program put in place."

Pritzker said if he was governor, he would end the voucher program.

Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26) released a statement praising the compromise bill's evidence-based school funding formula and money dedicated to funding poor school districts, but slammed the tax credit and voucher programs included:

Included in this bill is a "tax credit scholarship," which would incentivize wealthy Illinoisans and corporations to donate money to a fund to subsidize private schools. It is, in some ways, worse than a voucher. Sure, the bill doesn't directly send public money to private schools. But it incentivizes the wealthiest citizens - instead of paying their fair share of taxes to fund public education - to take a tax break that will pull resources out of our public schools, and away from the funds that invest in infrastructure, human services, and property tax relief. ... There were good people on both sides of the aisle who voted differently on this issue, and as a longtime advocate for education funding reform, it pained me to be in opposition. But I believe that public education is too important a concept to be traded away for the money that low income school children around the state deserve."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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