Historic school-funding reform is right balance for Illinois

The bipartisan education reform bill I signed into law last week marks a historic moment for our state and our schoolchildren. Illinois now has a more equitable funding structure that provides all children with the opportunity for quality education, regardless of their family’s income.

This historic accomplishment represents, for me, the reason why I ran for governor in the first place. Diana and I have spent decades improving education in Illinois. We believe education is the most important social responsibility we have as a community, and we have dedicated ourselves to supporting teacher training, principal development, and early childhood education.

After years of work and charitable investment, I realized that the reforms needed to improve Illinois education could not be achieved from the outside. I ran for governor to develop policies and structures that provide better education for our schoolchildren across Illinois.

Our administration came into office with an ambitious agenda for education, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished. State funding of public schools has increased by over $1 billion under our administration. We have increased funding for early childhood education to its highest levels ever. Through the Every Student Succeeds Act, Illinois now has one of the most rigorous student accountability plans in the country.

Under the leadership of Secretary of Education Beth Purvis, we established the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission: a bipartisan committee brought together to advise the General Assembly on ways to reform the broken school funding system. Democrats and Republicans alike have recognized that our school funding formula was broken for decades, but our administration took on this challenge.

The new evidence-based school funding formula acknowledges that it takes more money to educate children who live in under-resourced communities and guarantees that new state dollars are distributed equitably. At the same time, it holds all 852 school districts harmless from cuts in state support and presents avenues for property tax relief for homeowners. After years of being 49th among states for state support of education, Illinois is now poised to fulfill our obligations to our children regardless of race, income or geography.

While the process has taken partisan turns over the past few months, in the end we arrived at a true compromise that not only overhauled the funding formula for Illinois schools, but enacted other historic reforms. School administrators and school boards will have flexibility and relief from unfounded mandates. Charter school parents will no longer have to fight for equitable funding for their children. And parents of limited means who believe that a private or religious school is the best fit for their child will have access to scholarships through a tax credit program.

All Illinoisans should be proud that we seized the opportunity to create this lasting change for our state’s schoolchildren. I applaud our team and lawmakers for finding the balance that is right for Illinois, and I am honored to have been able to sign this bill into law.

Finally, this compromise is proof of what we can accomplish as a state when we work together. The bill signing last week brought together people and lawmakers from all walks of life, and I hope we can continue down this path of finding thoughtful bipartisan solutions for our state.