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updated: 8/24/2017 9:59 PM

State leaders say they've got a deal on school funding reform

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  • House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, left, and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, talk on the Senate floor July 4 at the Capitol in Springfield.

    House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, left, and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, talk on the Senate floor July 4 at the Capitol in Springfield.
    Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register via AP

 
 

General Assembly leaders said Thursday they've reached a deal on school funding reform, and the House will reconvene Monday to vote on it.

But they did not release details of the deal.

"The legislative leaders appear to have reached a bipartisan agreement in concept and will meet again on Sunday in Springfield," a statement from House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton said.

And House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Senate Republican Leader-designee Bill Brady released the following statement via Facebook on school funding reform negotiations:

"This afternoon the four legislative leaders and the governor reached an agreement in principle on historic school funding reform. Language will be drafted and details of the agreement released once the drafts have been reviewed. The leaders will reconvene in Springfield on Sunday in anticipation of House action on Monday."

Madigan and Cullerton's statement said the Illinois House is expected to be in session at 4:30 p.m. Monday.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's office released a statement saying, "Governor Rauner applauds the four leaders in coming to a consensus on historic school funding reform that reflects the work of the School Funding Reform Commission."

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that one source said a scholarship program to provide tuition help for parents of children in private schools, through vouchers, was part of the deal. Cardinal Blase Cupich and other religious leaders had lobbied hard for the tax credits -- $75 million for donors to the pilot program -- long sought by parochial schools.

The Sun-Times also had sources saying the leaders and the governor agreed on mandate relief for school districts and property tax relief for wealthier school districts. Those districts would be able to reduce the property tax levy by no more than 10 percent, the sources said.

Per the agreement Chicago teacher pension costs and health costs would be moved from the school code to the pension code, which was pushed by the governor and Republicans, sources told the Sun-Times.

The four General Assembly leaders have been meeting privately to resolve a funding fight that has held up state money for public elementary, middle and high schools this year, a spinoff of Illinois' unprecedented two-year budget impasse. The spending plan legislators approved last month requires a new school funding formula.

Senate Bill 1, a Democratic plan passed in May, would change the way state money is distributed to schools using a new method proponents say is more equitable between wealthy and poor districts.

But Rauner, who called the measure a "bailout" for Chicago Public Schools, issued an amendatory veto to reduce the amount of state money given to Chicago schools this year by $423 million compared with the bill as written. Rauner's plan would increase funding for 831 other school districts, including some in the suburbs, according to an analysis released by his office.

The Senate did not agree, passing a motion to override Rauner's veto in a 38-19 vote, with several suburban lawmakers favoring the school funding bill as is.

The motion to override the governor's veto then moved to the House. There, an override, which also requires a three-fifths majority vote, was less certain. But Madigan said he'd call for an override vote.

Madigan canceled a House veto override vote Wednesday "in light of progress" in the leaders' discussions Tuesday.

Declining to offer specifics on the deal "out of respect for leaders in the legislative process," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday the state is "finally being fair," the Sun-Times reported. Asked if the deal in principle would net Chicago schools the same benefits as the original bill that Rauner vetoed on, Emanuel said: "That, and more."

Negotiations have been going on since June about a private school voucher program, which would grant tax credits for donors who write checks for scholarships to private schools, the Sun-Times reported. Republicans sought $100 million with a 100 percent tax credit. But there was talk about reducing it to 75 cents per dollar, or lower. Democrats also wanted a pilot program with a sunset, not a permanent one. The agreement was for a $75 million program that would sunset in five years, according to a separate Sun-Times source, and donors to the scholarship funds would receive $0.75 credit for every dollar given. Limits also would apply to the size of donations as well as the incomes of families who apply for the scholarships, the source said, adding that the plan also caps how much money each student could be awarded.

With the legislation still in limbo, the State Board of Education couldn't release the first state-aid payment Aug. 10. No public school district indicated it wouldn't open, but most said they can't hold classes all year without state money.

Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat, had called Rauner's plan "shortsighted," saying it would be financially devastating to school districts statewide.

"Senate Bill 1 is the only plan that ensures no Illinois schools lose funding," she said in a statement after the Senate override vote.

If legislation isn't passed, school districts won't receive the $6.67 billion in state money that is tied to the passage of a new funding formula.

"This was not only the most beneficial reform brought forth this legislative session; it is also the most necessary," said Sen. Cristina Castro, an Elgin Democrat, after the Senate vote.

Republican Sen. Tom Rooney of Rolling Meadows supported Rauner's veto, saying Senate Bill 1 caters toward one district and ignores the needs of suburban and downstate schools. Rooney, a teacher at Leyden High School District 212, also criticized the two-month delay between lawmakers passing the bill and sending it to the governor's office.

"What we're saying is that everybody in this state needs to be treated equally. Nobody's special," he said after the Senate vote. "That's a message anybody should be able to understand."

Under Rauner's state funding reform plans, more than 97 percent of Illinois school districts would receive more funding than what's proposed in Senate Bill 1, according to an Illinois State Board of Education analysis.

Waukegan Unit District 60, for example, would receive $6.6 million more. East Aurora Unit District 131 would receive an additional $5.3 million, and West Aurora Unit District 129 would get $4.2 million more.

Elgin-Area School District U-46 would see the largest jump in funding -- $12.8 million -- from the bill as written to Rauner's plan.

"It's incredible for Elgin, a district that has a huge amount of poverty and does not have property tax wealth," Rauner said before the Senate vote. "The numbers show that our plan sends more money to almost every school district across Illinois. With our changes, the vast majority of our neediest district gets millions more."

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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