BLOOMINGTON — Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law Thursday sweeping changes to the way the state funds schools, calling it a historic day that will bring "more equality, more fairness and better opportunity for all the students of Illinois."
"We are achieving an historic event to get more resources, more support, more excellence for your classrooms, for your education, and to support your teachers," Rauner told students at Bloomington High School, where he visited earlier in the day.
He signed the bill at an Edison Park elementary school.
Besides distributing state aid more equitably, the long-sought deal the Legislature approved this week gives districts more flexibility on state mandates, allows residents in well-funded districts to reduce their property taxes and creates a new tax credit for donations to private school scholarships.
It also provides more than $430 million in new funding to Chicago Public Schools. That's roughly $150 million more than the amount Rauner stripped from an earlier plan and railed against as a "bailout."
Asked Wednesday about the turnaround, the Republican said the measure is a compromise and includes "many of the goals I recommended."
State Sen. Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican and minority leader, said Rauner spearheaded the bill despite the governor's work against Senate Bill 1, which remains the backbone of the law.
In Bloomington, Rauner explained the landmark bill to about 75 students, spoke about what didn't make it in and lauded Republican lawmakers on hand, including Brady, state Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington — who helped shape the deal — and state Rep. Dan Brady of Bloomington.
BHS Principal Tim Moore said the new model “will provide for adequacy and equity for all schools while immediately targeting those that need it most.”
Bloomington District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly and Mark Daniel, who holds the same job for Normal-based McLean County Unit 5, praised that part of the bill but said they have concerns about establishing private school scholarship tax credits when public schools still need more funding.
When asked whether the tax credits mean vouchers — state funds for parents to send their kids to private schools — are next, Rauner did not answer.
Instead, he discussed tax increment financing (TIF) districts, a government funding mechanism to be studied by a commission as part of the bill. Rauner said he hoped to address the districts directly in the proposal but couldn't.
TIF districts divert property tax revenue from governmental bodies, including school districts, to spur economic development. That revenue then isn't counted in a district's property tax base, which Rauner has said is unfair because it allows communities to set aside TIF money and also get more state education funding to make up for it.