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Manar/Bourne: Bipartisanship in General Assembly led to historic landmark school funding reform

Educating children should be a bipartisan issue. Two weeks ago in the General Assembly, it finally was.

After years of working on this issue and months of intense negotiations, the General Assembly passed a landmark school funding reform law that fundamentally will transform the way Illinois funds its schools. This once-in-a-generation school funding legislation is the single most important bipartisan reform Illinois has seen in decades.

As downstate legislators of different political parties, we were proud to work together on behalf of the schools and children we represent in negotiating the final agreement. Illinois will go from having the worst school funding formula in the country to having one of the best. Students in school districts lacking local wealth will be prioritized regardless of ZIP code. That means underfunded downstate districts will get the help they need.

There has been a lot of discussion about the imperfections of the bill. To paraphrase one of our colleagues, this is what compromise looks like. Neither side got everything it wanted, but both sides got something. In the end, this is a transformative reform and a victory for every student in Illinois.

One main Republican concern under the previous version of school funding reform was that Chicago would have received its pension payment through the school funding formula, skewing education dollars to Chicago Public Schools first. Under this compromise, Chicago still does well – like all other underfunded school districts. The bipartisan agreement pays downstate teacher pensions in full and moves Chicago’s pension costs out of the school funding formula, treating that district like every other school district in the state. Chicago also is given the ability to raise its property taxes so that it will support its own schools locally, just like every other district in the state.

One main Democratic concern under the governor’s amendatory veto of the previous version of school funding reform was his move to strike several provisions that protected underfunded schools in future years from potential cuts. The bipartisan agreement keeps these provisions intact, ensuring that the state continues to make underfunded schools its highest priority with the goal of eliminating our worst-in-the-nation inequity gap.

In short, this compromise treats all 852 Illinois school districts the same and will benefit every school district and every student in the state.

We have had real disagreements on school funding reform along the way. You probably have heard about our disagreements in the local newspaper or on the radio. But at the same time, the well-being of our schools and the students we collectively represent took precedent over partisanship.

In the final school funding reform deal, the sponsors of the bill were both balanced and bipartisan – five Democrats and four Republicans, including both of us. We believe this reform legislation represents what bipartisan compromise should look like.

In a state as regionally and economically diverse as Illinois, changing such a formula is a difficult proposition under the best of circumstances. Yet, under some of the most difficult circumstances, this summer state lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner came together to stand up for Illinois’ 2 million public schoolchildren by voting for and signing a comprehensive school funding overhaul.

Senate Bill 1947, the final compromise, is a landmark reform for school funding. It became possible because legislators from both parties and from all parts of the state decided to work together and compromise.

Children took priority over politics, and every student in Illinois is better off for it.

Senator Andy Manar is a Democrat from Bunker Hill. Representative Avery Bourne is a Republican from Raymond. They were part of the group of state lawmakers that negotiated the bipartisan school funding reform legislation signed into law August 31.

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Manar/Bourne: Bipartisanship in General Assembly led to historic landmark school funding reform