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Elmhurst District 205 superintendent calls school funding decision 'bittersweet'

ELMHURST – Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 Superintendent David Moyer called the school funding plan state lawmakers approved this week "bittersweet" in an Aug. 30 statement.

Moyer said school districts are "appreciative" the state has passed an education budget, but it's unclear if the initial influx of additional money during the bill's first year is sustainable. He also said the adequacy provisions in the bill are "problematic."

The legislation includes a $75 million tax-credit scholarship program for low-income students. Under the plan, scholarships would be funded by contributions from Illinois residents and companies. For every dollar donors give, they receive a 75-cent tax credit.

"A provision of this new bill will divert up to $75 million annually to non-public schools over a five-year period. This is concerning to Illinois' superintendents," Moyer said.

However, he praised the bill's mandate relief and the elimination of the tax-increment financing provisions in the bill.

"We are thankful there is a budget and a funding mechanism, so at least districts around the State can plan. Maybe the best word to describe Tuesday’s outcome is 'bittersweet,''" Moyer said.

State Rep. Patti Bellock, R-Hinsdale, voted in favor of the bill.

"Embracing the spirit of bipartisan compromise, this bill represents concessions from lawmakers in both parties and both legislative chambers to ensure that all Illinois public schools are able to remain open and receive their fair share of state funding," Bellock said in a statement.

She added no school districts will lose money under the plan, and none will receive "special deals" either.

"In response to Republican concerns, Chicago Public Schools’ normal pension costs will be paid in the same manner as all other school districts," she said. "All 852 school districts in Illinois are treated the same."

State Sen. Chris Nybo, R-Elmhurst, agreed all districts will be treated "fairly and equitably" in the approved plan.

"Our students’ education is a unifying issue always, and I think this proposal advances much-needed school funding reform for Illinois students," Nybo said.

He said the bill prioritizes funding for low-income school districts and creates new opportunities for students in the most challenged districts.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill Aug. 31. It was approved by the House on Aug. 28 and the Senate on Aug. 29.

“Our leaders worked together to provide school choice protection for parents who want the best education possible for their children," Rauner said in a statement following the Senate vote. "This is accomplished by ensuring that district-authorized charter schools receive equal funding, and by providing families with limited financial resources the same access to private schools."

Rauner also said the legislation provides mandate relief for school districts and presents avenues for property tax relief.

"School districts will be given flexibility in how they schedule physical education curriculum and how they administer driver’s education curriculum," Rauner said. "In more affluent school districts, this bill provides taxpayers with a chance to lower their property taxes through the referendum process."

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