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Senate brings historic education funding reform across the finish line (VIDEO)

Manar Lightford 082917

The Illinois Senate voted in favor of a measure today overhauling Illinois’ broken school funding formula and replacing it with an evidence-based model. Based on Senate Bill 1, which passed both Houses in May and was vetoed by the governor in July, Senate Bill 1947 changes Illinois' worst-in-the-nation formula to bring certainty and equity to school districts statewide.

Senator Andy Manar, the bill’s sponsor, said the plan will fund schools fairly “for the first time in decades.”

“There will not be another generation of students that are subjected to inequity — the worst in the country — after this bill becomes law,” he said. “That’s something worth saying today.”

“The legislature was able to come together through bipartisan compromise to approve a plan that fixes our worst-in-the-nation school funding formula," Assistant Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood) said. "While there are aspects in this proposal that will need revision, I refuse to continue denying our children a quality education."

“We are closer than ever to enacting a measure that provides equity for all children by putting dollars where they are most needed," she continued. "I will continue working to make education more accessible and fair on every level, and I am glad we were able to take a significant step toward that goal today.”

Under the legislation:

  • No school districts would lose funding.
  • Funding would be distributed on a per-district basis, not a per-pupil basis.
  • Initial funding would be based on FY17 disbursement levels. It would increase from that point year over year as school districts get closer to reaching their adequacy targets.
  • The Chicago Public Schools block grant would be repealed, but CPS would be held harmless like every other school district so that it would not lose funding as a result of the change.
  • $350 million in new K-12 state funding for this schoolyear would be distributed to districts using a tier system that prioritizes districts farthest from adequacy.
  • School districts and their boards will have certainty each year about how much state funding they can expect to receive, which will make budgeting easier and more effective.

The measure also includes a Republican-backed tax credit scholarship program that would award a 75-percent tax credit of up to $1 million to any taxpayer who contributes scholarship funding for students to attend private or parochial schools.

Other senators reacted to the passage of Senate Bill 1947 -- some voted in support but several in opposition.

“We took a historic step today to reform our state’s worst-in-the-nation school funding formula,” Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) said. “The new model will discontinue the current system of winners and losers and ensure that every student has equal access at a high-quality education. In years to come, we will know that we voted for a transformational event in Illinois education policy.” 

“My vote today was a vote for compromise on a historic school funding reform measure. This legislation needed support from both parties in order to pass, and as such, some concessions needed to be made," Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) said. "Though I do not support voucher programs or the tax credit scholarships in this bill, at the end of the day, this measure would implement an evidence-based school funding model that supports every school district in the state."

“I have held firm that Illinois needs a new education funding system that is equitable and adequate," Senator Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Plainfield). "In the end, SB 1947 allows every student a chance to succeed throughout my community and the entire state.”

“For years, teachers, advocates and policymakers have been working to make Illinois’ system of school funding more equitable for all students. Today, the Senate passed a plan that accomplishes that goal," said Senator Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights). “While I have serious concerns with the creation of a tax credit program for private schools, a passable solution required legislators on both sides of the aisle to compromise."

“For over 20 years, schools in Chicago and the Southwest Suburbs have been shortchanged by the most inequitable formula in the country. Today, we took a step to end that inequity,” Senator Bill Cunningham said. “This bill will provide more equitable funding and for the first time, provide a path for property tax relief in districts with high tax rates.”

It’s unfortunate that to get to this point the legislation had to include tax credits for private schools," Senator Donne Trotter (D-Chicago) said. "But, it’s what the Governor and Republican leadership demanded to get their votes on fair funding for public schools. Despite that, I decided to take a necessary step to bring significant improvements to how we fund our public schools.”

“We needed to provide stability in funding for schools throughout the state of Illinois,” State Senator Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills) said. “This compromise gets rid of a rotten system in exchange for one that puts Illinois on the path to an education funding system that will give every student a chance at success.”

"Today I voted to provide adequate and equitable school funding for all districts in the state," said Senator John G. Mulroe (D-Chicago). "Though I am disheartened that the governor inserted last-minute ideas into legislation that has been debated for years, this measure needed support from both sides of the aisle to pass. Ultimately, a price tag of $75 million for a five-year pilot program for private school scholarships was worth it to fix our broken school funding system.”

“While I agree that Illinois needs to change its education funding system to be more equitable, I could not vote for this version of the reform," Senator Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) said. "I was a strong supporter of the version of this legislation that the Senate passed months ago. The legislation that the Senate approved today has strayed from our initial vision. Yet again, the governor has moved the goalposts at the last minute, adding in provisions that would give away $75 million to private schools and diminish driver’s education and physical education. I cast a vote today to protect these programs and reserve public funding for public schools.”

“Senate Bill 1947 was a historic piece of legislation. My ‘no’ vote does not reflect the significance of this landmark reform," Senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) said. "It is unfortunate that in order to pass this legislation the legislature had to accommodate the governor’s pursuit of privatization of public education, especially since this tax credit did not have a single public hearing and does not send money to the schools that need it the most.”

“I recently heard former Obama Transportation Secretary and Republican Congressman Ray LaHood say ‘Big things happen only through compromise,’” Senator Pat McGuire said. “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.”

State Senator Laura Murphy (D-Des Plaines) said she could not support the tax credit element of SB 1947.

"I am encouraged that the evidence-based school funding plan has passed the General Assembly and is awaiting the governor’s signature. For the first time we have a funding formula that provides fair and adequate funding for students throughout the state. However, I could not support some elements in this bill that send a very disingenuous message to taxpayers. This bill gives the false impression of helping middle class families receive a tax credit when in reality it provides tax credits for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class. It contains philosophical differences for which I cannot compromise. It takes money away from a state that is sorely in need of every dollar. The state cannot spend money it does not have.”

Senate Bill 1947 passed both Houses and now awaits the governor’s signature.