Senate Week In Review: August 21-25, 2017

Education funding progresses during the week, and job creation increases but remains a problem for Illinois.

Ed funding negotiations

Education funding talks progressed during the week to the point where “an agreement in principle on historic school funding reform” was reached between the four legislative leaders and Governor Bruce Rauner.  The announcement was made August 24 by Republican leaders Senator Bill Brady and Representative Jim Durkin.

“Language will be drafted and details of the agreement released once the drafts have been reviewed.  The leaders will reconvene in Springfield on Sunday in anticipation of House action on Monday,” the joint statement read.

The talks advanced during the week, proving to be so productive that a previously-scheduled session day for the House was cancelled.  The House had been expected to take up a veto override vote on Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), the “evidence-based” school funding legislation at the center of the talks.

Senate Republicans have long-advocated for bipartisan solution that treats all schools fairly and equally.  A true evidence-based funding model should, by definition, treat all schools and their students fairly – no matter where they attend school.  There are 852 Illinois school districts educating more than two million students.

While the “devil is in the details” as usual, press reports indicate that the bill will still provide a bailout for CPS but will also provide an opportunity to help private schools through a new tax credit.  Individuals will receive a state tax credit (not a deduction) equal to 75% of the amount contributed to help a private school.  Several other states have tried similar programs with positive results.  Unfortunately, each school district will also receive a minimum guarantee that they will receive at least as much state money as they received last year, regardless of the number of students.  That means that districts with declining enrollment like Chicago will continue to receive at least as much as last year and if the new program is successful in moving some kids from public to private schools, those public schools will still continue to receive the same money, again with fewer kids.  But we will have to wait to see what the agreement actually says.  I can hardly wait until Monday!

Job Creation Still a Concern

The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) reported August 24 that Illinois businesses added jobs in nine metro areas, but lost jobs in four other metro areas during the month of July.  IDES reports the top job growth areas were Mining and Construction, Professional and Business Services and Leisure and Hospitality.  Statewide, the unemployment rate stood at 4.9 percent, which is one percent lower than July 2016’s 5.9 percent.  The Department noted the drop in unemployment is “mostly due to the decline in the labor force.”

A week earlier, IDES reported June job growth was revised down to show an increase of +6,400 jobs compared to the preliminary estimate of +8,600 jobs.

While any job creation is positive, IDES Director Jeff Mays said, “The strong employment growth exhibited in the U.S. is not being felt in Illinois.”  Illinois Department of Commerce Director Sean McCarthy added, “We need reforms to provide business owners relief and incentives to make our state not only competitive, but attractive to bring good jobs back to Illinois.”

Job weakness in a struggling economy is why the Senate Republican Caucus has long-supported reform legislation to revitalize the state’s business climate, such as workers’ compensation changes that lower hiring costs, and reducing government and business regulations that divert financial resources away from business expansion.  It’s not a coincidence that Illinois’ overall poor fiscal health has tracked side-by-side with its struggling economy.  Growing the economy and providing opportunity and prosperity for working families is the best long-term way back to fiscal good health.

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