CHICAGO – Illinois’ legislative leaders will meet Sunday as they work to finalize a tentative deal that would end a political stalemate over school funding formulas and resume the flow aid of aid to districts.
If a final agreement is brokered between the General Assembly’s Democratic majority and minority Republican leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner, the House could vote on the legislation as soon as Monday.
The leaders announced a deal late Thursday that they cautioned was tentative. If finalized, it would resolve a dispute over SB1, which overhauled school funding by shifting to a so-called evidence-based model.
Rauner labeled it a bailout for Chicago Public Schools and used his amendatory veto powers to reshape it. Though Senate Democrats overrode the veto, action remained pending in the House, where Democrats lack the 71 three-fifths majority for an override to succeed and GOP members have resisted breaking ranks with Rauner.
The fiscal 2018 budget required use of an evidence-based formula to distribute nearly $7 billion in aid to the state’s more than 850 districts, so districts have had to forgo the first two payments of the fiscal year. That prompted warnings from rating agencies of possible downgrades.
“The legislative leaders appear to have reached a bipartisan agreement in concept and will meet again on Sunday in Springfield," House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said in a joint statement. "The Illinois House is expected to be in session on Monday at 4:30 p.m.”
Republican leaders Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, and Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, said in a statement: “This afternoon the four legislative leaders and the governor reached an agreement in principle on historic school funding reform. Language will be drafted and details of the agreement released once the drafts have been reviewed.”
Rauner applauded the compromise in a statement.
The leaders did not release details, though comments by Mayor Rahm Emanuel suggested the cash-strapped, junk-rated CPS fares well in the package, saying it achieved the city and CPS’ “benchmark.”
When asked during a news conference called after the leaders’ announcement if CPS received at least what it was set to receive under the original SB1, Emanuel said: “All that and more.” He did not go into further detail.
CPS’ $5.75 billion fiscal 2018 budget that is up for board approval Monday relies on $300 million in new aid and teachers’ pension help from the state and $269 million in unidentified city help. The agreement “takes a significant step toward making sure we have equitable funding for all children” in the state, Emanuel said.
“The financial books are much more stable and on firmer ground,” Emanuel said. “It doesn’t mean our work is done.” Emanuel declined to comment what form the city help might take, saying that it would be part of the city’s budget process.
While details remained scarce, much of the original SB1 -- which is designed to provide more funding for districts that don’t benefit from a wealthy property tax base -- remains, according to several lawmakers. The original bill holds harmless funding levels for wealthier districts.
The deal acquiesces to GOP demands to include a $75 million tax credit program for donations made to private schools. The Chicago Teachers Union has labeled the program nothing more than a voucher program that would harm public schools.
It’s unclear whether the compromise deal includes a provision that allows CPS to raise its state-imposed property tax that limits annual increases to the lesser of inflation or 5 %. Such a move had been under discussions.
The bill is not expected to include Rauner’s proposal to lift some collective bargaining requirements. One Republican lawmakers slammed the apparent deal after Emanuel’s news conference saying the GOP gave up to much.
Before the deal was announced, S&P Global Ratings said the state was putting the ratings of some already strained school districts at risk due the delay. Similar warnings have come from Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service as some districts were dipping deeply into reserves or borrowing to open the school year on time and keep schools open.