Illinois schools as immigrant "sanctuaries?" If only they read the bill

The Illinois Legislature on Tuesday approved a school funding overhaul that supporters hailed as "historic", saying it will increase aid to all of the state's more than 800 districts and eliminate large disparities between rich and poor schools.

After a frenzy of education funding activity in the Illinois House of Representatives, members on August 28 passed Senate Bill 1947 on a 73-34 vote. The bill is meant to put new money for education into the state's poorest and neediest districts and to try to distribute education funding more equitably.

The trip wire for many Democrats was a $75 million tax credit for families who donate to private schools.

Southern Illinois lawmakers don't call the bill they passed Monday night "perfect" but said it will get the job done.

Legislators from both parties have said for years that the way IL distributes money to schools is unfair, but they've been unable to agree to a way to change it.

At this point, however, literally all 108 are Democrats, and in a House led by a far-right Republican majority, the bill has no realistic chance of getting a vote, at least in this Congress.

The measure failed in the house 63 to 45.

Legislative leaders have been meeting privately to resolve the funding fight that has held up state money for K-12 this year, a spinoff of Illinois' unprecedented two-year budget impasse, which just ended last month. He says he's enthusiastic about the bipartisan compromise and his district will get roughly $180,000 more under the proposal. "Every district in IL wins under this plan".

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One of those provisions contributed to the bill's initial defeat in a 61-46 vote. The measure needed 71 yes votes.

"As the provisions of SB 1947 are implemented in school districts across IL, we will be able to determine if the new model is having the desired effect on student learning".

"I wish I could say (I know)", Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley school district Superintendent Jeremy Darnell said.

Many Democrats and some Republicans opposed the tax credit, which teacher unions lined up against.

"This law reinforces local and state communities to work with the federal government to protect the neighborhood, to protect the people in the state of Illinois", Schmitz said.

Governor Bruce Rauner has already vowed to sign the bill, which will move IL to an "evidence-based model" of education funding, taking 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.

In exchange, changes to the way tax increment financing districts are calculated into a school's local funding capabilities may be imminent, at Republicans' behest, plus a potential allowance for districts to get rid of requirements, like physical education, for which the state does not provide funding.

The bill introduced Monday also provides $75 million in tax credits for people who make donations to private school scholarship funds and allows Chicago to increase property taxes by $120 million to help pay teacher pension costs.

  • Sonia Alvarado