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Illinois Lawmakers React To Senate Approval Of School Funding Overhaul

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The Illinois Senate has approved a new system for funding schools that will reduce large disparities between wealthy and poor districts.

Legislators voted 38-13 on Tuesday to approve the plan that passed the House on Monday. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has said he'll sign the bill quickly to get state money to more than 800 districts that have been waiting for funding for the new school year.

Lawmakers have tried for decades to overhaul a school funding formula that's considered the least equitable in the U.S.

Democratic state Senator Kimberly Lightford, from Chicago, said the change has been a long time in coming.

“This is what compromise looks like,” she said. “This is it. A bill that none of us like — at 100 percent.” 

Mike Jacoby, executive director of the Association of School Business Officials, said the organization was a key architect in the funding proposals -- and they’re “elated” to see it pass the Senate.

"While we struggle and oppose several of the new elements that were added to the compromise, we know that is what the art of compromise is," he said. "You don’t get 100 per cent of what you want."

Jacoby said this bill has been vetted more than any other public policy question he’s experienced.

The new plan provides more money to all school districts. It also provides $75 million for a tax credit for people who donated to private school scholarships. That drew criticism from teacher unions, some school officials and lawmakers. 

State Rep. Litesa Wallace, D-Rockford, said the measure “includes tax credits up to $75 million for many citizens who have resources not available to low-income and middle class families.”

Rauner issued a statement in response to the Senate's Tuesday 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.”

  • Illinois Public Radio's Brian Mackey, Dana Vollmer, Jessie Schlacks and The Associated Press contributed to this report.