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Illinois public school funding a step closer with veto override votes

Gov. Bruce Rauner gives a student a high five after signing education funding reform bill SB 1947 at Ebinger Elementary School, Thursday afternoon, Aug. 31, 2017. File Photo.| Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Illinois’ public schools are a giant step closer to getting their share of state money under a new funding formula as a legislative hurdle fell Wednesday.

The Senate and House both voted to override an amendatory veto Gov. Bruce Rauner signed in early January because he wanted to include more private schools in a new tax-credit scholarship program included in the public school funding law.

Rauner’s sudden change of heart threatened to delay the distribution of billions in funding to the state’s 800-plus school districts.

The House voted 90-18 Wednesday, the Senate 28-17. The votes mean that the Illinois State Board of Education can proceed with figuring out how much each district across the state is due.

Downstate Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, an architect of the school funding reform legislation, urged his colleagues to agree to “the small handful of technical changes” to the bill containing the formula that now sends new money for K-12 education first to the poorest school districts.

“This is simply implementing the bill that was agreed to,” Manar said during a brief discussion on the Senate floor.

Funding is likely to arrive at school districts in April. It will be distributed according to each district’s needs and ability to fund those needs.

“ISBE staff are continuing to finalize tier funding calculations,” spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said.

Though the Republican governor signed the bill containing the private school benefit, he later issued an amendatory veto after he determined that it left out too many schools, many of them in Chicago.

But late last week, Rauner agreed to some administrative changes to the tax credit scholarship program that would expand the list of eligible schools to include several Chicago-based Catholic schools. Basically the fix allows private schools more time to get recognized by ISBE, a requirement of accepting the scholarships funded by $75 million in tax credits to donors.