Tuition Tax Credits Emerge as Part of Illinois School Funding Debate

Amid the ongoing battle in Springfield over education funding, a new twist has emerged as tuition tax credits for private schools may become part of the negotiations.

Lawmakers in the House return to the Capitol Wednesday and could potentially take up an override on Gov. Bruce Rauner's amendatory veto of Senate Bill 1, the measure to move Illinois to an "evidence-based model" of education funding on which all state aid for schools hinges.

Legislators are not yet expected to have the votes to override Rauner's changes - which include stripping Chicago Public Schools of more than $463 million in state aid - but it now appears as though tuition tax credits could end up as part of the final agreement.

As the four top leaders in the House and Senate continue to negotiate, a potential bargaining chip has emerged in the form of a pilot program that would give tax credits to parents who send their children to private schools.

The Chicago Archdiocese would certainly benefit, with Cardinal Blase Cupich leading the way in rallying support for a program of that nature.

"We think the scholarship tax credit provides an opportunity to educate more of Illinois children regardless of where they live," said Robert Gilligan, of the Catholic Conference of Illinois. " What we’re hoping to do through scholarship tax credits is provide a little extra means, an avenue whereby a child who's not getting their needs met now will be able to in the future."

Many Democrats oppose the tax credits, for which the state may earmark $100 million.

"It's basically a disguised voucher program and what that does in essence is take money away from public education," said State Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat. "This is beyond the 23rd hour idea, throwing into an amendatory veto when it was not part of those negotiations."

Rauner supports the idea of a program, which 17 other states currently have. In Indiana, 34,000 students at 300 schools participate in a similar system.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has steered clear of the debate, though he has sent a signal he may be in favor.

While the specifics of the policy have not yet been formally introduced, lawmakers may approve tuition tax credits as a pilot program initially.

But first, the focus will be on a potential veto override in the House on Wednesday, for which at least four Republicans would need to join the Democrats in voting against Rauner.

Should an override attempt fail this week, lawmakers will have one more opportunity on Aug. 29 - and tuition tax credits could serve as a potential bargaining chip in reaching that elusive compromise.

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