Wednesday, August 30, 2017
Senate Approves School Funding Bill
A landmark education funding reform bill was approved by the Illinois Senate Tuesday, paving the way for more than 850 Illinois school districts to begin receiving state aid money this year. The bill will now go to Gov. Bruce Rauner for his signature. The governor said Monday that he plans to sign the bill.
No money can go to districts, however, until a new plan is in place. Although school officials have said they will be able to open classrooms for the new school year, many districts have worried they would run out of money if a plan wasn’t approved soon.
The legislation passed Tuesday also provides $75 million in tax credits for people who contributed to private school scholarships.
The tax credit program will expire after five years if lawmakers don’t extend it. The credits would be worth 75 percent of a taxpayer’s annual contributions to a scholarship fund, with a maximum credit of $1 million annually. The money may be donated to a specific school but not a specific student.
Students receiving the scholarships must have a household income of less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $73,000 annually for a family of four.
Under Illinois’ current school funding system, districts must rely heavily on property taxes to fund schools. That’s created large differences in funding levels, with some wealthier districts spending four times more per student than districts with less property tax wealth.
Under the new plan, the state will determine how much money each district needs to adequately educate its students, taking into consideration the number who live in poverty, are English learners or need special education services. The state then looks at how much money the district is able to generate from property taxes, and directs aid first to districts that need it to reach the spending target.
The legislation also provides money to help Chicago Public Schools make payments to its teacher pension funds, as Illinois does for other districts, and gives districts relief from some state mandates, such as allowing them to offer fewer days of physical education each week.