House expected to get first look at school funding plan

CHICAGO — The state’s top legislative leaders were still working out final details of a proposal to overhaul how Illinois funds its public schools before the House was expected to get a first look at it on Monday.

Top Republicans and Democrats have been meeting behind closed doors to negotiate a bipartisan deal, but few details have been publicly released. Republicans would only say that it increases funding for every district and contains a proposal to provide tax credits for those who donate to private school scholarships.

The leaders met for about two hours Sunday at the Capitol after saying days earlier that they had a tentative agreement. While Republicans talked about positive developments, majority Democrats were declined comment.

Public schools won’t get state money until there’s a new funding formula because the budget lawmakers approved last month requires it. There’s wide agreement the current 20-year-old formula is unfair, but Republicans and Democrats disagree on an overhaul.

Incoming Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady emerged from the meeting to call the deal a “win-win.” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said they’re tying up loose ends on the 500-plus page proposal and planned to meet again Monday before it was presented in the House.

“This is an opportunity for the state of Illinois and for the Legislature to do something momentous, something that has been desperately needed for decades,” Durkin told reporters. “It’s time for everyone to, if they have minor objections, look at the goal. Who gets hurt? No one gets hurt. Everyone succeeds under this. Every student in Illinois is going to be a beneficiary to what we have come to a conclusion on.”

Democrats didn’t address reporters. Spokesmen for House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton declined comment.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has given mixed signals about the deal, initially praising leaders’ efforts and then saying the agreement contains too much money for Chicago Public Schools.

The first-term Republican has objected to another proposal the Democratic-majority Legislature approved that’s aimed at reducing disparities in per-student funding that exist between wealthy and poor districts. Rauner used his amendatory veto powers to rewrite it.

The Senate overrode him, but the House put off a vote because of leaders’ negotiations on a fresh deal. An override requires a three-fifths majority. The House would need Republican support to succeed.

In the meantime, over 800 school districts are in limbo. They’re expected to open on time, but many say they won’t be able to last long without state funding.