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School Funding Bill Finally Headed To Governor

Senator Jason Barickman on the Senate floor.
Seth Perlman
State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, in 2013.

The Illinois Senate has approved a new system for funding schools that will reduce large disparities between wealthy and poor districts.

Legislators voted 38-13 on Tuesday to approve the plan that passed the House on Monday. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has said he'll sign the bill quickly to get state money to more than 800 districts that have been waiting for funding for the new school year.

Lawmakers have tried for decades to overhaul a school funding formula that's considered the least equitable in the U.S. The new plan provides more money to all school districts.

State Sens. Bill Brady and Jason Barickman, both Republicans from Bloomington, voted for the bill. State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, also supported it.

Unit 5 and District 87 officials said Tuesday afternoon that they don’t know how the bill will impact them financially. Earlier estimates of related legislation (Senate Bill 1) indicated both local school districts would be seeing hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue, but a current projection was not available Tuesday.

The bill contains an agreed-to evidence-based model for determining how much funding each individual school district needs to adequately educate students, and it then distributes the money based on that data, Barickman said in a statement Tuesday.

“The evidence based model is a strategic approach to school funding that links best practices and data to distribute funds,” said Barickman. “This will provide a transparency to school funding that Illinois has never had, so that lawmakers and parents can see how dollars being spent, and will allow taxpayers to have confidence that they aren’t being asked to contribute more money to a broken system.

“Plus, this is a scalable and realistic plan that works regardless of budget decisions made by political leaders, and it removes the devastating effect that proration had on so many districts,” Barickman said.

Private School Scholarships

The bill also provides $75 million for a tax credit for people who donated to private school scholarships for low and middle-income students. That drew criticism from teacher unions, some school officials and lawmakers.

An individual or corporate donor will receive a 75 percent state tax credit on their donation to private school scholarships, according to a “fact sheet” released by the Catholic Diocese of Peoria. This means that if a donor donates $10,000, they will receive a state tax credit of $7,500, the diocese said.

Karl Goeke, president of the Unit Five Education Association, said he was happy to see that “after 20 years we’ve finally updated the school funding to something that’s more equitable.” But Goeke believes the private school scholarship pilot program is the first step toward a voucher system that will divert money away from public schools—something teacher unions have long opposed.

“The compromise didn’t need to be about creating tax incentives for the wealthiest people in our state,” Goeke told GLT. “That has literally nothing to do with equitable funding for public schools. These are two separate issues.”

Brady referenced the private school scholarships in his remarks on the Senate floor.

“Every school district will get more money than last year. The people of Illinois will get an opportunity for property tax relief. Students will get an opportunity to go to schools they couldn’t go to before. I think we’ve accomplished a lot,” Brady said.

Bloomington-Normal Catholic schools referred requests for comment to the Catholic Diocese of Peoria. The diocese declined to be interviewed for this story and instead released a statement called “Key Facts.”

“A tax credit scholarship program is NOT a tuition tax credit,” it reads. “It does not allow parents to get a credit for tuition paid on behalf of their own child.”

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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