Illinois Governor Signs ‘Historic’ Education Funding Bill

CHICAGO (CN) – Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bipartisan education bill Thursday that will revamp the way the state funds public schools, ending his standoff with the Legislature over the so-called bailout of Chicago schools.

FILE – In this Aug. 30, 2017 file photo, Gov. Bruce Rauner answers questions during a news conference at Ball Charter School in Springfield, Ill. (Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register via AP File)

“Today we’re making Illinois history,” Rauner said before signing the bill. “We finally got it done.”

The new education funding bill provides $430 million in new funding to Chicago Public Schools, about $150 million more than Gov. Rauner vetoed in a previous version of the bill, which he lambasted as a “bailout” for Chicago’s broken public school system.

CPS released a $5.7 billion budget earlier this month that relies on $300 million in extra funding allotted to it by the state’s Democrat-controlled Legislature, plus an additional $269 million from the city.

Illinois schools are funded primarily by property taxes, and therefore CPS relies on significant additional help from the state to serve students in some of the state’s poorest neighborhoods.

The state has one of the largest gaps in the country between spending at wealthy versus poor school districts, but the new bill will partially address these inequities by funneling state money to districts that need the most help.

Even with the approved state funding, CPS will still be running a significant deficit due to its massive pension obligations. For Fiscal Year 2017, CPS had to spend $1,891 per student on pensions, while other districts averaged only $86, according to a lawsuit filed by the school board accusing the state’s school funding system of racial discrimination.

The new education bill will offer some relief for CPS on its massive pension burden – by partially shifting the burden to Chicago homeowners. The state has agreed to pay $221 million for CPS pensions this year, as compared to the $12 million it paid last year, and legislators granted the Chicago Board of Education the authority to levy $120 million more in additional property taxes to help with pension costs.

In a major concession to Republican lawmakers, whose votes were necessary to pass the bill, the law also creates a tax credit for people who donate to private school scholarship funds. Critics say this measure undercuts the tax base for public school funding, allowing wealthy people to donate to private schools of their choice to offset taxes that would otherwise go to poor school districts.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended Thursday’s bill signing and said, “It’s a historic moment because we’re finally fixing a historic wrong.”

Gov. Rauner’s political archnemesis – House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago – did not attend the ceremony, but praised the bill as “a victory for our schools, our students, and our communities.”

Schools should begin receiving funds within days – just in the nick of time for Chicago schools, which start classes on Sept. 5.

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