Compromise education funding reform bill passes

Education funding reform legislation passed
After a long summer of negotiations, the House passed historic education funding reform legislation this week which includes a K-12 funding record level. The bill we passed takes ideas from the Governor’s bipartisan School Funding Reform Commission and from the recent negotiations. It is a compromise approach to fix the broken formula. Governing requires compromise, and it took compromise to get the needed bipartisan support to pass this into law.

This bill makes necessary changes to our school funding formula and ensures that Illinois schools will receive their state funding, although it’s a little bit late. Under this bill, every school district in the state will receive more money this year than they did last year.

The budget requires that funding for education be distributed through an evidence-based model. Until that model is in place, schools will not receive their state funds. In fact, they have already missed two of their expected state aid payments this school year. This legislation puts that model in place, meaning that those funds can finally make their way to the schools. The evidence-based model means that all children are treated the same, based on the students’ need. It also enacts a per-district hold harmless amount, meaning that school districts will not lose money year over year.

One of the sticking points in the negotiations was a bailout of the Chicago pension fund that was included in the original reform bill, Senate Bill 1. Republicans were able to get that bailout removed from the education funding portion of the bill. This means that instead of diverting money from the school funding formula for Chicago pension costs, those costs will be paid through the pension code just like all other districts. Money will not be taken away from local schools to bail out Chicago pensions. Instead, it allows Chicago to deal with its own problems by raising its property tax levy. And we are not touching the $10 billion they owe on their pension debt.

I would have liked to have seen some other items removed, such as the portion of Chicago’s pension legacy cost which the bill covers; and the complete funding of the Chicago block grant as well. But overall I believe this is a workable compromise.

The bill includes much-needed mandate relief to provide local schools with flexibility when serving their specific district’s needs. In addition, the legislation creates a tax scholarship program to help low-income students attend private schools of the parents’ choice. The bill puts in place a task force to study Tax Increment Financing and their effect on school districts.

It reforms our funding model; the most inequitable model in the nation; and makes school funding more equitable across the state.

I want to thank the many superintendents who have talked with me over the summer about this important issue. I also appreciate the many school boards whose meetings I have attended to hear first-hand their perspective on the different proposals that have been floated this year. I enjoyed hearing your ideas and I look forward to talking with you as this new formula is implemented.

Bennett-Barickman stewardship bill becomes law
Senate Bill 1029, which I sponsored in the House and Senator Jason Barickman sponsored in the Senate, was signed into law last Friday. The bill creates the Illinois Natural Areas Stewardship Act, which sets up a program to allow non-profit land conservation organizations to apply for grants from the Natural Areas Acquisition Fund for land stewardship.

The program allows the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to make these grants to conservation land trusts to conduct stewardship actions on eligible lands. These organizations can then use these funds to conserve and protect our state’s natural areas. It will not cost the state any additional money as these grants will come from an already-existing fund.

The bill passed both houses by very wide margins back in May. I appreciate the many members from both parties who came together to pass this legislation which will help preserve natural areas around the state for future generations.

Springfield’s Lincoln Presidential Library now an independent agency
Governor Rauner signed legislation last week making the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) complex an independent agency of the state of Illinois. The grant of autonomy to the library and museum moves it toward a status that is closer to the level enjoyed by other presidential libraries around the country. As the head of an independent agency, the director of the ALPLM will have additional standing to solicit private sector support, which has the potential to reduce the need for taxpayer funding. The Lincoln Museum bill, HB 136, was approved by the House in April.

State panel approves new science standards for Illinois students
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has cleared the way for full implementation of the Illinois Science Assessment this school year. Supporters of the new assessment claim that Illinois schools need to ramp up science education to prepare students for the kind of science curriculum they will see in college. The assessment will add to the current standardized-test routines that are more concentrated on math and English.

In recent years, colleges have increased their focus on STEM courses: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. This adjustment has included majors that have traditionally not been STEM-oriented such as business, economics, and sales management. The Illinois Science Assessment will be new for some Illinois students, while other public schools have already administered the test to their students. In the initial pilot testing, only 39% of high school students in Illinois passed the test. In order to help teachers prepare their curriculum for this new method of measurement, ISBE stated that they will increase their outreach to Illinois public school districts.

The assessment tests some basic concepts used by scientists in disciplines such as chemistry and biology which are already taught in most high schools. Under the new ISBE standards, different versions of the test will be administered to students in 5th grade, 8th grade and most likely 11th grade.

Did You Know?
On September 5, 1901, the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body for minor league baseball, was created here in Illinois. The organization was formed during a meeting in Chicago consisting of seven minor league presidents. By the 1940s, the minor leagues had expanded to nearly 60 leagues in more than 400 cities around the country, including several throughout Illinois. Today a handful of minor league teams still play here in the state where minor league baseball was officially organized.