Illinois state government has had a reputation of partisan gridlock and dysfunction for decades. We’ve seen battles over issues where the only glaring difference that kept both sides from coming together and compromising was simply their own political affiliation.

Yet several weeks ago, it became crystal clear that the antics of the partisan rancor needed to be put aside because there were far more important priorities than party politics. Those priorities were the millions of children that weren’t sure if they would be able to remain in school because lawmakers in Springfield had failed to pass funding for education. Those priorities were the millions of working parents who were concerned they might have to find alternative options for their children if lawmakers couldn’t come together and compromise.

To me, this was, and always will be, unacceptable. 

It’s widely known that leading up to last week, Illinois had one of the most inequitable school funding systems in the entire nation. For decades we’ve used a one-size-fits-all approach for funding schools which led to great disparities in how much money, per pupil, schools were receiving to educate our children. This created a statewide system of winning and losing school districts.

We also know that Illinois is an incredibly diverse state. The needs of Southern Illinois are different than the needs of suburban communities which are also different than the needs of the city of Chicago. Because of this, reforming the way we fund our schools had eluded lawmakers for decades.

In order to address this issue head-on, Governor Rauner created the Education Funding Reform Commission last summer. This bipartisan, bicameral commission was tasked with making recommendations to the General Assembly on how best to revise the state’s school funding formula. On February 1, 2017, this commission submitted its final report which became the baseline for legislators to work off of moving forward.

Leading up to the end of session in May, great progress had been made between Republican and Democrat negotiators in the Senate and the House to craft a bipartisan compromise that both sides could support. But, as often happens in Springfield, partisan politics won the day and the compromise was drastically altered without Republican input in the waning days of session, putting agreed-to reform in jeopardy.

So three weeks ago, the four legislative leaders, Senate President Cullerton, House Speaker Madigan, Senate Republican Leader Brady and myself, began to meet to find a bipartisan solution to reform school funding and ensure that our schools remained open. Abandoning partisanship, we spent countless hours over the course of two weeks coming to agreement on the major remaining issues to ensure schools were funded adequately and fairly for years to come.

Using the recommendations from Governor Rauner’s Education Funding Reform Commission and input from teachers, principals, superintendents, advocates and others, we found a solution where every child in every school district across the state wins.

The school funding compromise that was signed into law last week:

  • Provides historic funding of Illinois schools in fiscal year 2018
  • Establishes an evidence-based formula that ensures adequacy and equity – so that students in the poorest districts in Illinois receive funding first. 
  • Allows for property tax relief for high-taxed, high-funded school districts.
  • Creates a tax credit scholarship program to expand school choice for children from low-income families.
  • Further expands choice though more equitable charter school funding to allow every child to be treated fairly according to their parents’ choice.
  • Ensures that Chicago Public School District is not singled out and is treated the same as every other school district in the state.

Simply put, under this new formula, every student across our state will receive access to the high-quality education they deserve.

This solution is also proof that bipartisan, bicameral compromise is possible in Springfield. It shows that through productive negotiations and conversations – with the same end goal in sight – both sides of both chambers can come up with a solution where everyone walks away as a winner. 

There’s no doubt that the Governor signing the school funding reform measure into law was a historic moment. My hope is that this victory serves as a framework for us moving forward in the statehouse because there is much work that needs to be done to make Illinois a thriving state once again. I firmly believe that through bipartisan agreement like we saw last week, much more can be accomplished. 

State Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs is the Republican leader in the Illinois House of Representatives.

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