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House passes school funding bill on second attempt; Senate awaits

Politics

By Hoang Tran | Aug 29, 2017

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After hours of negotiations, countless debates and a reconsideration of voting, the Illinois House passed an education funding bill on Monday.

It was a tumultuous session in the House chamber as lawmakers debated for two hours on how to fund Illinois' schools. They first voted against an amended version of Senate Bill 1947, then took up SB1, which had passed the Senate after an override of Gov. Bruce Rauner's amendatory veto.

After SB1 also failed, missing an override by eight votes, the House returned to SB1947, which it had rejected only minutes earlier.


Rep. William Davis (R-Homewood)

SB1947 passed on a second vote, 73 to 34. 

“We have a proposal now that will ensure that all students in Illinois receive the high-quality education they deserve,” Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Raymond) said during debate. “Moreover, this compromise prioritizes funding to the students and the schools who need it most. This plan is realistic; this plan is fair. This plan represents the best outcomes for all students in Illinois.” 

SB1947 was initially rejected on Aug. 16 but came back changed on Monday as a result of meetings between Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago). 

It is a compromise that would allegedly fund schools across the state equally but also provide Chicago Public Schools with additional money -- as much as $450 million more than previously expected.

Rep. William Davis (D-Homewood) presented the bill and urged his caucus to vote for the education funding formula.

“No school loses in this conversation,” Davis said. “If there is nothing else that we can talk about back home, then we can talk about how well we can talk about well-funded our districts are going to become. It takes a little time to get there, but it encourages us to continue to appropriate a high level of resources, a high level of dollars to make sure that our schools get everything that they need and can produce the outcomes all of us want here in the General Assembly.” 

However, some Democrats found fault in a provision in the bill that would give $75 million in tax credits for scholarships program to allow low-income students to go to private schools. They argued that that provision wasn't clear and would provide more tax breaks for the rich.

Republicans opposed the Chicago provisions and questioned how the bill would be funded. The first vote on the bill failed to pass, 46-61 -- 25 votes short of the 71 required.

SB1 was then called for a vote to override Rauner's, but strong Republicans opposition guaranteed its failure, 63-45.

“That bill was not ready for prime time," Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) said. "It was force fed on the people of the state and on the Republican minority. We need to compromise, and the compromise bill was better than SB1 in that particular regard. Again, it was not perfect, as we discussed previously. SB1 is not the solution for our [education] funding problems.”

As the chamber waited to vote for a second time on SB1947, Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) acknowledged that the bill is not perfect but it represented a compromise from both parties.

"Is this bill perfect? No. Absolutely not," Durkin said. "I have been around here long enough to know that legislative perfection especially on an issue of this magnitude is nearly impossible. Take out 'nearly.' It is impossible to find."

He said that under the compromise, every child in the state will have better access to education.

"No one loses," Durkin said, "No one loses on this bill. That is what is important to know. Everyone gains."

SB1947 passed with two more votes than needed. To celebrate the passage, Rauner came to the floor to congratulate the chamber.

SB1947 will now head to the Senate, which is expected to take it up on Tuesday.

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