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Education Reform Bill Moves to IL House on Wednesday

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Illinois Education Reform Bill

Education reform bill moves to IL House on Wednesday after successful override vote in IL Senate

The first categorical payments to all Illinois school districts exceeded the first official deadline on August 10. The IL Senate lawmakers successfully voted 38-19 to override Governor Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto on Sunday in Springfield. The Illinois Board of Education received inaccurate reports last Wednesday, conducted by the Department of Revenue that contained inaccurate distribution estimates from the 1,000 Tax-Increment Financing (TIF) funds for school districts. Illinois is now in a position where their governor is without proof to back up his veto that all school districts will receive more funding than the previous year.

The Illinois Republican lawmakers wrote to the Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, earlier this week to express concern over the legality of Senate Bill 1. They questioned whether it could be considered legal according to the Illinois Constitution, and whether it was officially passed before the state budget deadline on May 31, or if it passed on August 1. However, some Republicans say that the only way for schools to receive any state funding is if the general assembly accepts the governor’s veto with a ⅗ vote.

The question is, how can lawmakers approve the revised bill if there’s no evidence to back it up? Nor should they vote on a bill that doesn’t supply accurate estimations, so schools know what to expect to receive as we inch closer to the first day of the school year. Not only have the lists of all Illinois districts with their approximate funding estimations been removed from the governor’s website, but Rauner has now lost the confidence of many of his constituents and Republican lawmakers.

Along with the cut to the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in the governor’s partial amendatory veto, TIFs were also cut from SB1. These TIF funds are located throughout Chicago and accumulate property taxes that are supposed to be funneled back into their communities. The amount of revenue is estimated at $561 million. According to David Orr, the Cook County Clerk, “these millions of dollars are going to special funds that the mayor can direct toward private developers.” I will conduct a further in-depth investigation on this subject very soon.

Rauner’s revision to SB1 also included a $100 million voucher program for private and parochial schools in Illinois. Essentially, the tax dollars from citizens and businesses within these voucher school areas would go to private institutions instead of other schools within that district that require desperate infrastructural maintenance, improvement of enrollment and keeping a full staff available to their students. By siphoning funds from underfunded schools to pay for these scholarship tax write-offs, this is the definition of stealing from the poor and giving to the rich. This portion of the revision has been discussed behind closed doors in Springfield, like much of this historic state-budget crisis.

A massive response to the disorganization in Springfield can be seen throughout the state. From student protests to parents suing the state, a crushing worry casts over the 855 districts waiting for a resolution. One CPS parent, Lisa Kulisek, said in explanation of the lawsuit, “We would like to force the governor and the General Assembly to do their job and work together to approve an evidence based model that provides adequate funding for Illinois’ schools. Our children, and particularly poor children, deserve a quality education and should not be pawns in a political game.”

Leaders of their districts have been speaking up relentlessly as we near the beginning of the school calendar year. CPS CEO Forrest Claypool explained, “Every district in Illinois is facing unnecessary – and unconscionable – uncertainty about how much funding they will receive from the State, thanks to Governor Rauner’s veto of a historical education funding reform bill.” Tony Sanders, the CEO of U-46, also expressed the precedence of the override. “Between Senate Bill 1 and the governor’s amendatory veto, there are several fundamental differences. Senate Bill 1 adjusts adequately to each school district, and the adequacy target will increase by the rate of inflation. Under the veto, the inflation portion has been removed from SB1, in the long run, it will give the appearance that school districts are more adequately funded.”

As school districts prepare for their doors to open, Illinois Comptroller Suzana Mendoza, issued $429 million in mandated categorical payments to IL schools to assist with the beginning of their school year. According to the Comptroller’s office, they issued a statement about the payments, “Our office has been preparing for this contingency. Failure to sign General State Aid funding legislation allowing payment to school districts statewide meant monies reserved this week for that purpose, combined with additional cash management strategies, could be utilized to pay the grants already owed to those districts. Categorical payments cover transportation, special education, and other costs.” Comptroller Mendoza urges the General Assembly to override the governor’s veto so that schools can move on from this long overdue reform.

On Sunday, the Senate voted in favor of maintaining the original form of the historic education reform bill. The Illinois House will have 15 days to decide on their vote, and they need bipartisan support to reach the 71 votes required to override the veto. They are scheduled to meet on Wednesday in Springfield, and there’s much anticipation for a matched outcome that will make its mark in Illinois history as to whether they side with the Senate in a ⅗ vote or let the desperately needed education reform die the day many schools start the 2017-2018 school year.

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