Illinois Senate to take up school funding overhaul

By Sara Burnett 
Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate is expected to take up a school funding overhaul Tuesday that supporters have hailed as “historic,” saying it will increase aid to all of the state’s more than 800 districts and eliminate disparities between rich and poor schools.

The Illinois House approved the measure late Monday, and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has said he’ll sign the bill “quickly” to ensure districts starting a new school year have the resources they need.

Without a funding plan in place, districts have received no state aid so far this academic year. Although school officials have said they will be able to open classrooms for the new school year, many districts have worried they will run out of money if the impasse isn’t resolved soon.

The legislation, negotiated in private meetings over recent days between Republican and Democratic leaders, provides $75 million for tax credits for people who contributed to private school scholarships.

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

Several lawmakers initially voted “no” on the measure Monday, citing concerns that the tax credits will take money away from public education. After it failed in the House, lawmakers attempted to override changes that Rauner made to a different school funding bill that teacher unions preferred. That effort also was unsuccessful.

With no other funding plans available to get money to schools quickly, legislators tried again to pass the newer plan. This time, several lawmakers who initially opposed the measure changed to “yes” votes.

“Even if all members did not agree with 100 percent of what is in the final bill, this bill still delivers 100 percent of what schools throughout Illinois need,” Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan said. “This bill is a permanent promise of more funding for schools statewide. Every district in Illinois wins under this plan.”

The legislation also provides money to help Chicago Public Schools make payments to its teacher pension funds, as the state does for other districts. The plan also gives districts relief from some state mandates, such as allowing them to offer fewer days of physical education each week.

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