Senate advances landmark school funding bill; Rauner has pledged to sign it

The Illinois Senate on Tuesday signed off on a bipartisan measure to revamp how the state distributes money to local school districts.

The legislation would allow the state to resume payments to schools after many began the academic year without funding, and it sets the stage for a property tax hike for Chicago Public Schools.

The Senate approved the plan by a 38-13 tally, after it cleared the House a day earlier. Gov. Bruce Rauner‘s education secretary, Beth Purvis, said Rauner will sign the bill “soon” but not necessarily immediately. She said the governor’s office wants to make sure everyone involved can take part in a signing ceremony. Senate Democrats need to send him the bill paperwork before Rauner can act.

While billed as a compromise between the four Democratic and Republican leaders after Rauner used his amendatory veto powers to rewrite an earlier proposal, the measure nonetheless caused strife among some rank-and-file lawmakers.

Democrats took issue with a program to grant $75 million in tax credits for private school scholarship donations, while some Republicans argued the measure still provided CPS with too much money — which was one of Rauner’s key objections when issuing his veto.

Democratic governor candidate Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, said he voted against the proposal because of the tax credit, calling it a “dangerous” precedent. Biss accused Republicans of using the crisis surrounding school funding as a “backdoor” way to push for the privitization of public education.

“I can’t help but ask: What’s next?” Biss said.

Supporters, though, argued that lawmakers should focus on the larger goal of the bill: invest more money into schools over time, with the most money first going to the poorest districts. No school is expected to lose funding under the plan, and the hope is that more state education spending could help lower property taxes in communities that rely on those dollars to prop up their schools.

State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said the legislation would “restore confidence in taxpayers that they are no longer being asked to contribute to an ineffective and inefficient school funding system.”

“I think this is a historic opportunity for our state,” Barickman said. “We need to act now so our schools can have the assurances that the funding is going to be there during the school year. We need to act now because we don’t want…

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