Illinois Democrat’s bill could end new school scholarship plan

A little more than a month after its passage, a private school scholarship program created in the sweeping education funding reform overhaul signed into law in August and touted as a win by Gov. Bruce Rauner and Republicans is the target of a new bill that seeks to remove it.

State Sen. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, D-Shorewood, filed legislation Monday that would require state lawmakers to spend at least $350 million more on public school funding before the private school scholarship would be allowed to commence. The education funding reform measure set an additional $350 million in school funding annually as a target, but lawmakers knew they wouldn’t be able to meet that threshold in the first couple years of funding, considering the billions of dollars the state has in back-logged bills.

The five-year scholarship program allows up to $75 million in tax exemptions from donors to help kids attend a private school. It was a major piece of the negotiation in convincing the GOP and Rauner to go along with the funding formula change and more than $200 million in new funding annually for Chicago Public Schools that many Republicans called a bailout of its failing pension system.

 “People can’t compromise anymore,” said state Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinkley. “It’s always got to be my way or the highway.”

Pritchard was one of the principal negotiators in the passage of the education reform bill. He said Bertino-Tarrant’s bill is only the latest sign that some Democrats are unwilling to compromise, even after a deal is struck.

It’s possible for the state to meet that $350 million mark in the coming fiscal year, when the private school scholarship program is set to begin, but Pritchard said it would be incredibly difficult. The state will likely still be dealing with billions in unpaid bills, in addition to a budget shortfall of more than $1 billion in the current budget.

On the other side of the negotiating table for the education reform negotiations was state Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood. He couldn’t say he would support Bertino-Tarrant’s bill simply because the private school program was part of the deal to get the bill signed into law.

“I appreciate what she’s attempting to do, but I supported that compromise and I told my members that I would vote for that compromise,” he said.

A spokesman for Senate Pres. John Cullerton’s office said they will review the bill. Cullerton’s staff later said in an email that Bertino-Tarrant was not part of earlier negotiations and this is legislation she is asking the Senate to consider.

Bertino-Tarrant voted for the education reform bill in August.

 

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for Illinois News Network and Watchdog.org. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

 

 

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