Key Republicans involved in the negotiations over school funding reform say some of the major issues they are focusing on are mandate relief for schools, property tax relief for homeowners, and a private school scholarship tax credit.
State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, was part of the group of eight lawmakers tasked with negotiating a bipartisan, evidence-based school funding model. Such a model is required in the budget lawmakers imposed last month before general state aid checks go out to school districts. Those checks were supposed to go out earlier this month but didn’t.
Pritchard said things like including a Chicago Public School pension bailout were put into the Democrats’ school funding reform bill last minute, making it unsavory for Republicans.
Negotiators were close before that happened. Now it’s up to the four legislative leaders who are scheduled to meet again today.
Among the issues, Pritchard said, is giving the rest of the state’s schools the same types of management rights as Chicago received.
“If we’re doing the pensions for Chicago,” Pritchard said, “the rest of the school districts across this state should get the opportunity to deal with some of those management options that allows school districts to save money and put that money into the classroom instead of just unnecessarily paying a higher rate to get certain services.”
Democratic leaders say that’s an effort to diminish collective bargaining rights. Republicans say the issue is about unfunded mandates local districts should have better control over.
State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, was also part of the eight-lawmaker group. He said the management rights issue is important.
“Mandate relief,” Barickman said. “An easy approach to that is looking at some of the flexibility measures that Chicago is given for controlling its personnel costs and extending those benefits statewide so that each of the other 851 school districts can receive some of the benefits that Chicago receives at controlling its benefits costs.”
Mandating schools to offer drivers’ education fits into this category.
Another part of the negotiations Pritchard said has to be how to lower property taxes.
“We need to give school districts over 110 percent of adequacy the option to have a referendum to see if they want to lower property taxes,” Pritchard said. “We need the property tax swap funded so that districts that want to lower their rate, that money can be replaced by this state fund that would then give some real property tax relief of those high-tax, low-wealth districts.”
As for the so-called Chicago bailout part of the Democrats’ plan, Pritchard said Chicago hasn’t properly used its block grant for more than 10 years.
“We had a report that was filed several years ago,” Pritchard said, “that showed Chicago was not using all of the block grant for its intended purpose. That then could be identified as excess funding. And if it’s excess funding, we ought to run it through the formula, not just give that to Chicago in its base funding minimum.”
“That’s about $200 million over 10 years,” Pritchard said, “which is then the horizon of reaching adequacy in funding education. That’s over $2 billion, with a ‘B,’ that needs to go to all needy school districts, not just one.”
Barickman said one issue being negotiated as a way to get more GOP support for an agreement is a private school scholarship tax credit.
“The idea here is that Republicans are continually putting forward ideas where we believe we can reach a bipartisan agreement,” Barickman said. “We need the Democrats to come forward and tell us what they to are willing to do.”
The House is back Wednesday and has until Aug. 29 to attempt an override of the governor’s changes to the Democrats’ bill or provide a new, compromise one. If an override fails, a new bill would have to pass both chambers.