Last month, the general assembly passed an education funding reform bill that will change the future funding formula and provide additional funds to low funded schools. The bill also provided for a new tax credit program for private schools. For that reason, I did not vote in support of the legislation.
The highlight of the bill is that the schools will be funded for this school year without worrying about state money arriving in time. The bill also reforms the school funding formula to focus on an evidence based strategy. This means the schools will focus more on what the children need, rather than how much money is available, but on a hold-harmless basis where every school district will receive at least the money they received last year. We added $350 million in funding to schools across the state, and plan on adding roughly $350 million every year to this evidence-based model. The bill also provides more oversight on TIF funding by creating a bi-partisan task force to study the relationship between the school districts and school funding. These are all positive actions that will ultimately support our schoolchildren and give them a better education.
These are the first steps in taking Illinois from last place in the rankings of education funding systems to a national leader, but there were flaws in the legislation I could not ignore.
My biggest problem with the bill was the decision to allow a tax credit for scholarship contributions. Some of my concerns are detailed below:
- This tax credit has no attached revenue source, and allows $75 million in new state spending.
- This tax credit doesn't go to families paying tuition, but instead to individuals who donate to a specific type of scholarship fund. In other words, this is public money that will replace private money already being spent, and blurs the line between the separation of church and state.
- This tax credit is capped at $1 million of contributions per individual per tax year for a five year period, and can be carried forward for five tax years if there is leftover credit against your income. This means high earning individuals can not only duck the tax increase we recently passed to balance our budget but potentially all taxes for the next ten years.
- This tax credit, even with the built in scholarship limits that only allow for a maximum of $24,650 per student based on special needs, gifts, etc, is only going to help roughly 6,000 students if the program is fully utilized.
- This tax credit was implemented with no major public discussion or debate, and can affect public schools up and down the state. We've been debating the changes we made in this bill for well over two years, but the Governor didn't add in this tax credit until the very last week.
It will be important to monitor the new school funding bill and especially the tax credit program. Good public education is at the core of our democracy. An educated participating population will ensure our democracy stays strong.
TRUST Act, Automatic Voter Registration Signed into Law
Recently the Governor signed two bills into law that I sponsored.
The TRUST Act (SB31) creates the strongest statewide deportation protections in the nation, and will allow for law enforcement officers to focus on protecting our streets and policing our communities, putting the burden for federal law enforcement on federal officers. The TRUST Act will prevent local police from holding people for immigration purposes without court-issued warrants and forbids local police from stopping, searching or arresting anyone based on their immigration or citizenship status. The Act will hopefully give immigrant community members more confidence in coming forward to report a crime or assist in an investigation without fear that they or their family members will be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Automatic voter registration (SB1933) has been an issue I have fought hard for in Springfield, and I am proud to say we're now the 10th state in the nation with a more common-sense approach to voter registration. Suffrage is an essential right, and I was happy to see it not become the partisan issue it has in other states. This law could potentially register one million previously eligible but unregistered voters as they interact with a number of state agencies.
Governor's Record on Women's Agenda
Governor Rauner has so far had a mixed record on what our legislative caucus of independent women has considered our Women's Agenda for this session. Here's an update:
The Governor signed HB3215 into law this month, which is a crucial law that provides free and accessible feminine hygiene products in public schools. Known as the Learn with Dignity Act, this law will give peace of mind to all young women across Illinois.
The Governor has not been the champion we would hope for on economic issues. He vetoed the No Salary History Act (HB2462) which received wide bipartisan support, he vetoed SB81, which provided a minimum wage increase to $15 by 2021 allowing women who are earning minimum wage the means to keep their families afloat. He also did not support SB1296, a bill that would have secured paid sick time for working and middle-class workers and SB981 which created a state-run insurance program so workers could take paid family medical leave.
The last piece of the puzzle will be HB40, a bill that safeguards and ensures access to legal and safe abortions in Illinois. HB40 not only repeals trigger language regarding abortion's legality if Roe v. Wade is overturned, but would repeal provisions that currently limit healthcare options for women who work for the state government, receive their healthcare insurance through state policies, or receive Medicaid. While the Governor promised in writing during his campaign that he would support this exact type of bill, he has wavered in his support of women's reproductive rights and may not sign the bill.