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Bill that would keep your kid’s school open passes its first crucial test

Belleville News Democrat

Tuesday, August 29, 2017  |  Article  |  BY LEXI CORTES AND JOSEPH BUSTOS

Education Funding (36a) Beiser, Dan--State House, 111 , Cavaletto, John--State House, 107 , Hoffman, Jay--State House, 113 , Meier, Charlie--State House, 108 , Stuart, Katie--State House, 112
A compromise funding plan that would ensure public schools can stay open this year garnered enough support Monday in the Illinois House to move forward.

The Senate is now scheduled to vote Tuesday on the measure.

Republican and Democratic leaders had been negotiating the proposal in closed-door meetings for days, with few details released before Monday. It includes up to $75 million in tax credits for people who donate to private school scholarships for financially needy kindergarten through 12th-grade students.

State Reps. Dan Beiser, D-Alton; John Cavaletto, R-Salem; Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea; Charlie Meier, R-Okawville; and Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, all voted in favor of the compromise measure Monday evening.

State Reps. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, and LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, voted against the funding plan.

It was the second vote of the day on the proposal after receiving no support from metro-east lawmakers the first time around.

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly and Republican governor have been unable to agree on school funding reform since July. In the meantime, schools haven’t received any aid money from the state this academic year.

Teacher and union president Lee Ann Gemmingen said that’s been stressful.

“That uncertainty makes us worry that we’re not going to have kids in our schools,” she said. Gemmingen teaches at West Junior High School in Belleville District 118, which estimates that it would have to close by October without state funding.

She wants to see lawmakers come to an agreement but disagrees with the tax credits included in the compromise plan. Gemmingen compared them to a voucher program in which public money can be used to send children from low-income families to private schools.

Gemmingen said she doesn’t have a problem with private schools. “I don’t think, though, that we should be taking money away from public schools to help private schools,” she said. “… That’s $75 million that could really help us.”

Illinois House GOP leader Jim Durkin said during Monday’s debate that the bill expands school choice for students of all income levels.

“Is this bill perfect? No, absolutely not. I’ve been here long enough that legislative perfection, especially on an issue of this magnitude … is impossible to find,” Durkin said. “No one loses in this bill. That is what is important to know. Everyone gains.”

Gemmingen said she would have preferred to see the House override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of another school funding bill, Senate Bill 1, on Monday.

Before passing the compromise, state representatives tried to override his veto, but they were eight votes shy of the three-fifths majority necessary. The Senate previously overrode the governor’s veto with a 38-19 vote.

Ten representatives didn’t vote on the House override, including Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville.

Metro-east Democratic representatives all voted in favor of the override, while local Republican representatives voted against it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Here’s how local state representatives voted on the compromise plan:

Rep. Daniel Beiser, D-Alton: Yes
Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem: Yes
Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton: No
Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis: No
Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea: Yes
Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville: Yes
Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville: Yes