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‘Historic’ funding deal offers boosts to poor and private schools

Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks at City Hall Thursday as Janice Jackson, Chicago Public Schools chief education officer, looks on. Photo by Sam Charles.

Illinois’ long-awaited reformed school funding formula, designed to bolster the state’s poorest districts without taking money away from the rest, is closer to becoming law — accompanied by $75 million in publicly-funded tax credits for private school scholarships.

After months of tug of war, the four legislative leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner announced on Thursday they’ve reached agreement on a historic revamping of school funding sought for a generation — with action expected in the Illinois House next week.

Details of the overall bill remained officially under wraps, but trickled out Thursday evening.

One source said a scholarship program to provide tuition help for parents of children in private schools is part of the public school funding deal. It had the backing of Cardinal Blase Cupich and other religious leaders.

A separate GOP source with knowledge of the negotiations said that Chicago got nearly everything it sought in exchange for nothing leaders had not already conceded.

And the final package includes none of the collective bargaining changes Rauner wanted.

Rauner appears to have caved under pressure from the House GOP caucus to avoid another disaster like the budget override, the GOP source said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the state is “finally being fair” but declined to offer specifics “out of respect for the leaders in the legislative process.”

Asked if the deal in principle would net CPS the same benefits as the original bipartisan bill Rauner halted with an amendatory veto, Emanuel said: “That, and more.”

But even if CPS gets the $300 million it counted on from the state, it still faces a sizeable budget gap for the current fiscal year.

Emanuel, who’s pledged $269 million in additional city support toward CPS’ budget, was also asked if Chicago taxpayers should “prepare for more hits.”

“I think they were hit hard a long time ago,” he said. “When you’re paying for everybody else’s teacher pension and you don’t get anything back and for the first time your money’s coming back to your 606 ZIP code, I think that’s a big step forward.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner, center, flanked by Republican legislators, speaks during a news conference last month. House GOP Leader Jim Durkin is first on the right, and Senate Republican Leader designee Bill Brady is second from left. File Photo. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Senate Republican Leader designee Bill Brady said in a statement that the leaders and the governor had 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. The leaders will reconvene in Springfield on Sunday in anticipation of House action on Monday,” they said.

House Speaker Mike Madigan and state Senate President John Cullerton released a statement saying leaders “appear” to agree “in concept.”

The governor’s office said Rauner “applauds” the leaders for coming to a consensus on reform.

Sources say the leaders and the governor also reached an agreement on a CPS property tax levy, mandate relief for school districts and property tax relief for wealthier school districts. Those districts would be able to reduce the property tax levy by no more than 10 percent, sources said.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, left, and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, talk on the Senate floor in July. File Photo. (Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register via AP)

Per the agreement Chicago teacher pension costs and health costs would be moved from the school code to the pension code, which was pushed by the governor and Republicans, sources said.

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, was among eight legislators negotiating the school funding reform plan.

Manar, who sponsored the Democratic school funding bill that sparked the governor’s amendatory veto Aug. 1, said Thursday he was hopeful the end was in sight.

“What’s important to me is the outcome,” Manar said. “That we finally end the least equitable system of school funding, which is a stain on the state. However this is achieved, I’m going to support it.”

Negotiations have been ongoing since June about a private school voucher program, which would grant tax credits for donors who write checks for scholarships to private schools. Republicans sought $100 million with a 100 percent tax credit. But there was talk about reducing it to 75 cents per dollar, or lower. Democrats also wanted a pilot program with a sunset, not a permanent one.

The agreement was for a $75 million program that would sunset in five years, according to a separate source, and donors to the scholarship funds would receive $.75 credit for every dollar given. Limits also would apply to the size of donations as well as the incomes of families who apply for the scholarships, the source said, adding that the plan also caps how much money each student could be awarded.

The Chicago Teachers Union slammed the tax credits they derided as vouchers and urged lawmakers to vote against it.

“Senate Bill 1 was designed to fix the inequitable school funding formula for the state of Illinois and remedy the state’s position as last in the nation for education. This current deal is a naked attempt by billionaire right wing ideologue Gov. Bruce Rauner to push through a reverse Robin Hood scheme that siphons money from poor school districts and lets the wealthy avoid paying their fair share in taxes,” the union said in a statement

With just 12 days to go before students return to class, CPS still has no final operating budget. The Board of Education isn’t scheduled to vote on a proposed $5.7 billion “framework” until Monday. Officials postponed releasing details for as long as possible to give Springfield more time.

Statewide, districts have scrambled to find or borrow money they had expected in general state aid due on Aug. 10 and 20.

Contributing: Sam Charles, Fran Spielman