Illinois House Reverses Course to Pass Contentious Education Funding Reform Plan

The Illinois House reversed course Monday to vote in favor of a contentious school funding reform deal on a second try just hours after the bill was initially voted down. 

Lawmakers voted 73-34 in favor of House Amendment 5 to Senate Bill 1947, the agreement that was hammered out through a series of closed-door meetings of the four top legislative leaders, including one Monday morning to finalize details. 

The bill will move Illinois to an "evidence-based model" of education funding, which would take into account each district’s individual needs, as well as its local revenue sources, when appropriating state aid – prioritizing districts that are furthest from being fully-funded.

Without an evidence-based model in place, no state funding can be disbursed to K-12 schools across Illinois at all, due to a provision in the budget passed in July that makes aid contingent on an overhaul of the funding formula.

The deal, first announced Thursday, initially failed after receiving criticism from several stakeholders, including representatives on both sides of the aisle. One of the more controversial components of the bill is a proposal to provide state aid to students who attend private schools through a tuition tax credit program. 

Cardinal Blase Cupich has long advocated for the proposal, but the Chicago Teachers Union called it a "voucher scheme to help the wealthy."

The CTU has been a major critic of the plan that will provide up to $75 million for scholarship tax credits. Lawmakers said those credits will go to families of low- and middle-income private school students. 

Some progressive Democrats, as well as several other unions like the Illinois Education Association, positioned themselves against the bill, denouncing it as an effort to create a statewide voucher program. 

Chicago Democrats stayed an extra hour after a three-hour caucus meeting to discuss that very issue privately with House Speaker Mike Madigan, emerging divided in their opinions on the bill as a whole. 

"Today we saw compromise," Madigan said in a statement. "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."

"Through compromise, we’ve included some provisions that many members would not have supported on their own," his statement continued. "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."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel applauded the agreement as well, having said previously that the bill would give cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools what they wanted and more.

"The Illinois House took a significant step tonight by passing an education funding plan that provides parity and stability for children across Illinois," Emanuel said in a statement, thanking lawmakers for their efforts to "put politics aside to address decades of inequity."

The measure will allow Chicago to raise its property taxes, and will give the city state aid to help with teacher pensions - a component that critics of the original Senate Bill 1 called a "Chicago bailout."

Among those critics has been Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who told business leaders in southern Illinois Friday that lawmakers were "on the verge of what is largely good education funding reform," but again blamed Madigan for inserting "a bunch of bad things in it," like funding for CPS that the governor said "shouldn't go to Chicago."

"It’s not fair but it’s going to end up being a compromise," Rauner said. "It’s not where we’d like it to be and what I’ll try to do is fix the problems with it in subsequent legislation."

But following the House vote, Rauner issued a statement that struck a slightly different tone. 

"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," he said, vowing to sign the bill 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."

Lawmakers in the House left to meet with their respective parties in a caucus following the initial vote, reconvening to take up an override of Rauner's amendatory veto to the original Senate Bill 1 as it passed the legislature. 

That override failed as well, needing 71 votes but receiving just 63. Lawmakers then voted again on the leader-negotiated deal, which the Senate is expected to take up Tuesday.

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