After Political Back-flips, the Illinois House Passes an Education Funding Bill

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State Capitol:   If anyone thinks democracy is easy, they should come to Illinois.  On Monday, the House spent an hour debating a new education funding reform bill, SB-1947, that went down to a major defeat when the vote was taken, 46-61.

Then the House tried to override the Governor’s veto of the first eduction funding bill, SB-1, that had passed both chambers in May, and which the Senate had already successfully overridden.  The House needed 71 votes for an override, but fell 10 short.

Here’s our Interview with Rep Steve Andersson just after the first vote on SB-1947, when it failed to pass by a large margin

And then in a perfectly logical way.. the House decided to reconsider the vote they held just moments before on SB-1947,  and this time after a short debate, decided it wasn’t so bad after all, and voted to pass the bill, 73-34.

So… why the flip-flop by members on the same bill within an hour?

Part of the new bill is a privately funded scholarship fund that would give a 75% tax credit to taxpayers who donate to a fund that would allow students to apply for money they need to attend a school outside their district.   Supporters say it’s not a voucher system — which the Supreme Court of Illinois said is unconstitutional — because it never uses money that was controlled by the state.

But the teachers’ unions, were adamantly opposed to the scholarship fund, privately funded or not.  And Gov Rauner was just as adamant that the scholarship fund was available in the bill.

That put Speaker Madigan in the position of having to demonstrate to the Teachers Union, that there wasn’t the votes to pass SB-1, the version of the education funding formula they preferred, on an override.

And so having then held the vote on the override, and with the issue of schools around the state facing closure in a matter of weeks, if a funding bill wasn’t passed, the House members then were free to vote for the bill that was a massive compromise on a host of issues, including the scholarship monies.   That, by the way won’t be available until a year from now.

Speaker Madigan shows his hand, with his own set of “non-budget” demands as part of the budget negotiations

Following the passage, Speaker Madigan issued the following statement on the passage of SB-1947.

“Today we saw compromise. 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.
“This bill provides the same promise of permanent funding for our schools as Senate Bill 1, with some additional items included at the request of Republicans. 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. This bill is a permanent promise of more funding for schools statewide. Every district in Illinois wins under this plan.

“Through compromise, we’ve included some provisions that many members would not have supported on their own. But a package that permanently provides more money for Illinois schools and puts us closer than ever to fixing Illinois’ broken school funding system is too important to let partisan differences get in the way.”

Dan Montgomery, of the Illinois Federation of Teachers was supportive of the overall bill, but underscored in a statement that the IFT will do what it can to defeat Gov Rauner, for his support of the scholarship fund,

“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.”

Following the vote, Gov Rauner was on the floor of the House, to shake hands and congratulate members for their vote.  His office released this statement.

“Today, members of the Illinois House of Representatives voted to bring historic education reform to Illinois children and their families. I want to thank Speaker Madigan, Leader Durkin and their staff members 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. 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.

“The compromise includes the much-needed flexibility for school districts through mandate relief, while providing avenues for property tax relief. It increases transparency related to how districts are funded through local, state and federal resources.

“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. By setting yearly minimum funding targets, this bill also ensures that Illinois will continue to invest in our most important resource – our children’s education.

“I encourage members of the Senate to also pass this bill, which I will sign quickly in order to ensure that our schools – many of which have already opened for the 2017-2018 school year – receive their much-needed resources.”

The Illinois Senate will be in on Tuesday to hold its vote on the bill, which is expected to pass the bill.

Senator Jason Barickman (R), the Republican point man in the Senate on education, said in a statement, “It is important to remember that the status quo is no longer an option.  For years, members of both sides of the aisle have highlighted the inequities of the current system that unfairly treats schoolchildren based on where they live.

We now have an opportunity to pass bipartisan legislation that allows us to fix the formula, enable school districts and taxpayers opportunities to lower their costs, and create new educational opportunities for many Illinoisans.  That is why I’m urging immediate action and support for this plan in the Senate.

I look forward to passing this bipartisan proposal in the Senate and sending it to the Governor as soon as possible.”

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