Davis: Compromise school funding legislation puts districts ‘on right path’

Monday’s passage of a compromise school funding bill in the Illinois House was “20 years in the making,” state Rep. Will Davis said.
 
  Will Davis
“This really is a historic action,” said Davis, D-Homewood, who chairs the House Education Appropriation Committee and was a key sponsor of Senate Bill 1947 (SB1947) the compromise legislation.
 
“This is going to put a lot of school districts around the state on the right path,” Davis told the H-F Chronicle Tuesday. Support also came from Rep. Anthony DeLuca, D-Chicago Heights, and Rep. Al Riley, D- Hazel Crest. Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Harvey, co-sponsored SB1947 in the Senate. Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, and Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, also voted for the legislation.
 
The compromise legislation was approved by the Illinois Senate Tuesday. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has said he will sign the bill quickly so that school districts can receive state aid payments. The state is already late in making two payments.
 
There were three House votes on school funding Monday before the final passage was accomplished. The first attempt to pass the compromise failed when a number of Democrats voted “no,” mainly because they object to a provision allowing $75 million in tax credits for people who contribute to private school scholarships.
 
After that, the House failed to override Rauner’s veto of SB1, the school funding legislation that was approved by the General Assembly this spring. Under the recently-passed state budget, legislators and the governor had to agree on a school funding reform package before aid can be released to Illinois’ 800 public school districts.
 
Finally, House members approved the compromise legislation. Statehouse observers noted that the failure of the bill earlier in the day gave Democrats an opportunity to show they opposed the tax credits in the legislation.
 
After the first failed vote Monday, Davis said he “honestly did not know what was going to happen next.”
 
“There was a lot of trepidation,” he said. “We met in caucus. After that, we tried again.”
 
Davis gave credit to other members of the “team” that helped moved the legislation forward, including Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Westchester, and Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill.  
 
Davis said the compromise legislation contains “everything that was in SB1” and also transfers the funding of retirement money for Chicago Public School teachers to the state pension code, which already covers teachers from all the other school districts across Illinois.
 
This year’s state budget provided an additional $350 million to help make up for inequities in an education funding formula that has long been criticized as being unfair and creating “have” and “have not” school districts. For years, lawmakers have unsuccessfully tried to change the funding formula. To guarantee passage this time, the reform mechanism had to be in place before school money in the new budget could be released.
 
Under the new plan, Illinois will determine how much money each district needs to adequately educate students. Factors like poverty levels and number of special education students will be taken into consideration. State education officials will then look at school system revenues that can be raised from property taxes and decide how much state aid districts need so they can reach targeted per-pupil spending levels.

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