Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Alliance Legislative Report (100-43)

SCHOOL FUNDING BILL APPROVED BY SENATE

Today, the Illinois Senate approved SB 1947, the school funding reform bill. Governor Bruce Rauner has vowed to quickly sign the bill into law, thus ending a long stalemate between the partisan caucuses and the two legislative chambers. The bill, which passed the Senate on a vote of 38-13-4, will be effective immediately upon the governor’s signature. Both the Illinois State Board of Education and the Office of the Illinois Comptroller have pledged to process the necessary paper work as soon as possible so funds can begin flowing to Illinois’ public schools.

General funds for schools have been held up so far this fiscal year because no evidence-based funding program had been put in place in accordance with language in the budget bill that only allows a distribution of most funds under an evidence-based funding program. SB 1947 contains most elements of the evidence-based model supported by Vision 20/20 and the School Management Alliance. More information on the compromise funding language can be found in the last Alliance Legislative Report.

The approval of a new, more equitable school funding formula, however, was not all good news. Yes, funds can now begin flowing to local public school districts. Yes, using an evidence-based model will direct scarce state funds to those school districts in the most need. But the essence of legislative compromise means that not everyone is happy with the result. Unfortunately, after all of the hard work contributed by school business officials, superintendents, principals, and school board members in the funding discussions, the Alliance could not support the final language in SB 1947.

The inclusion of provisions to allow taxpayer-initiated referenda in school districts that are calculated to be at least at 110 percent of their adequacy target was opposed by the Alliance. Currently, there are numerous tools on the books for transparency, taxpayer/citizen input, and participation in the property taxation process. An annual budget hearing by the school board regarding the adoption of a budget, the Truth in Taxation Act, and, ultimately, an election every two years where school board members face the greatest accountability are components of current statute.

Also opposed by the Alliance were the provisions creating a new income tax credit for taxpayers who contribute money for the purpose of covering non-public school tuition. The tax credit, generally a private school voucher program, creates an immediate diversion of public resources for the purpose of funding private education.

The most striking element that became evident over the past few months was the passion, resilience, and dedication of school superintendents, principals, business officials, and board members. Through all of the acrimony, political wrangling, and dire circumstances for local schools, they consistently took action with the best interests of the students of our public schools in mind.