Week in Review for week ending September 1, 2017

Historic education funding reform passes. The new school funding formula moves towards an “evidence-based” model based on practices followed in many other states. Illinois’ 852 school districts will be given positive incentives to work hard to improve their students’ performances. The new formula is contained in SB 1947, as amended in the House. Enactment of the measure followed up on two years of bipartisan negotiations between school advocates from both parties and was a response to the school funding discussion that took place during the summer of 2017.

SB 1947 represents a compromise agreed to by the four legislative leaders and Governor Rauner. Many of its individual features are not perfect from the standpoint of people who voted for the measure. Other features are popular with many Illinois legislators and voters. School mandates are reduced, and school management operational transparency is increased. One feature of the reform bill creates a system of new Illinois income tax credits. This new program is expected to leverage the donation of up to $100 million to scholarship funds to enable the enrollment of low and middle-income students in Illinois private schools. Supporters see the bill as a way to move Illinois toward adequate school funding and to add serious budgeting for results.

The House vote on SB 1947 on Monday, August 28, was 73-34-3. The House’s three-fifths majority carried the bill over to the Senate for concurrence. The Senate 38-13-4 concurrence vote sent the education funding reform package to Gov. Rauner for his signature on Thursday.

Video of Leader Jim Durkin during the debate:

House Republicans react to passage of SB 1947. Here is what some of our members are saying about the education funding plan passed by the House on Monday:

Rep. Christine Winger: “Today’s agreement is a historic step forward for education funding, one that will help our students have the opportunities they deserve to succeed while also ensuring all school districts are treated fairly.”

Rep. Peter Breen: “With the passage of SB 1947, we end a school funding battle that has put school children in the line of political fire in Springfield. This bill offers every school-aged child the opportunity to succeed."

Rep. Jerry Long: “This bill represents concessions from both parties and from both chambers. This compromise prioritizes funding for our most impoverished schools and students while securing historic funding levels for all 852 school districts in Illinois."

Rep. David Olsen: “We must not forget that at its core this is sweeping change based on years of study and many recommendations from the School Funding Reform Commission. We are now embracing an evidence-based model that should help every individual student succeed.”

Rep. Joe Sosnowski: "This compromise bill brings a scholarship system to Illinois that will allow students from all walks of life to access excellent schools and will allow parents the opportunity to choose which type of education best fits their family. If families are in failing school districts, they will have alternatives."

Rep. Charlie Meier: "The education funding reform plan approved secures historic funding levels for all 852 Illinois school districts. No school in my district will lose funding under this education funding plan."

New State push for financial literacy. New state standards, adopted by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in February 2016, will be put into effect in the 2017-2018 school year by local school districts. The standards are meant to cover fundamental principles of financial literacy such as bookkeeping (balancing a checkbook) and financial planning (saving money on a regular schedule).

The standards were adopted in response to reports of the marginal financial status experienced by some Illinois households. One study indicates that 38% of Illinois households (about 1.8 million Illinois households) currently possess virtually no savings. This could cause serious problems for them should they face an unexpected life event, such as unemployment or health issues.

The revised standards have been added to the social science curriculum and will be taught to all students starting in the elementary grades. Students will learn about debt, investments, and credit scores. Many school districts have already adopted standards of financial literacy that meet the newly adopted standards.

Realtors see July “solid gains” in Illinois housing values and prices. The median price of a home sold in Illinois rose 5.8% from July 2016. The data was published in the monthly report submitted by Illinois Realtors to their members and to the general public. The statewide median price of an Illinois home sold in July 20167 was $210,000, up from $198,500 in July 2016. The numbers published as this median do not, of course, fully reflect Illinois housing values and prices in geographic regions of the State that are seen as relatively desirable or less so.

Increased Illinois home prices were buttressed by good numbers from the Chicago area. Data from the Chicago Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA), the multi-county region defined by the U.S. federal government as “Chicagoland,” shows median prices up 4.4% in the Chicago PMSA from July 2016.

At the same time, the Illinois realty report showed a decline in overall housing sales activity. 15,677 homes were sold through licensed realtors in July 2017, down 698 homes (4.3%) from the 16,375 homes sold in July 2016. The data contained in this report is limited to properties that passed through the hands of licensed realtors, and does not include housing data from private sales.

Illinoisans rally to support Gulf Coast. Governor Rauner has mobilized the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) to coordinate Illinois’ disaster-response infrastructure with the responses being organized by the states of Louisiana and Texas. The Illinois Red Cross has marshaled its resources to rush support to the Gulf Coast, which has suffered widespread deaths and devastation from Hurricane Harvey and its catastrophic tropical-storm rainfall. The nature of the damage makes infrastructure maintenance and repair especially urgent. ComEd has deployed electrical repair teams to the Houston area. Many other businesses and nonprofit organizations are also stepping in to help.

For more information on how you can help disaster survivors in Texas, please click here.

Jobless rate drops in all Illinois metro areas. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), which has already reported the July 2017 unemployment rate for all of Illinois (4.9%), has supplemented this report with a table showing year-over-year unemployment rates in twelve key Illinois metropolitan areas. All 12 of these metropolitan areas had a lower jobless rate in July 2017 than had been posted twelve months earlier, with an especially significant drop in Chicago (6.0% to 4.8%, down 1.2%). As in previous metro reports, the jobless picture was slightly better in Illinois’ largest cities and suburban areas than statewide, indicating a continuing challenge in some Downstate rural counties.

Technology consulting firm announces plans for Chicago hiring. West Metro Partners, a Chicago-based consulting firm which specializes in technology solutions, projects that it will hire 500 new employees over the next five years. The majority of new hires are expected to be STEM college graduates with joint-majors or credentials in business and enterprise.

West Monroe Partners’ CEO Kevin McCarty states that his employees perform contract deep customer-oriented analytics with their partner clients, and develop plans to increase their customer-relationship productivity. They also develop solutions for welding previously-incompatible information technology systems together when two or more firms are implementing a business combination.

Education funding bill allow voters to initiate a school district property tax reduction referendum. As part of the overall school funding formula rewrite (SB 1947), the General Assembly this week enacted language that will allow many local Illinois residents to place a school tax levy reduction of up to 10% on their local ballots. The measure gives many property taxpayers a recourse they have not had before 2017.

The burden placed on these residents to get the question on the ballot will be significant: ten percent of the registered voters of a school district will have to sign a petition to get the measure on the ballot in that district. In order to get onto the ballot, the petitioners will have to show that their school district levies property taxes at a rate well in excess of “adequacy.” A mathematical formula is set forth to determine “adequacy” and, thus, to draw a bright line around the districts where the voters can place a tax cut on the ballot. The “adequacy” formula is oriented towards not protecting a school district that has exercised its maximum levy over and over and has built up a major cash reserve.

New scholarship tax credit. SB 1947 contains a new $100 million State of Illinois program intended to benefit Illinois elementary and secondary private-school scholarship funds. In order to be eligible for money from the private-sector gifts that will fund the program, these funds will have to operate scholarships that will provide tuition assistance to low and middle-income families. An income eligibility ceiling is placed on the household incomes of families eligible for the scholarships.

Language is included in the bill to encourage that a wide variety of school students benefit from the program, and to require that it be implemented in a way that will enable its benefits to be geographically distributed across the state. Private gifts to the scholarship funds made eligible by this new program will be partly incentivized by a credit to be added to Illinois income tax law.

New St. Louis-Chicago Amtrak engines will cut travel time by an hour. The improved diesel-powered locomotives will be capable of running at speeds of up to 125 miles per hour in open areas. The enhanced performances generated by these 4,400-horsepower units could reduce “Lincoln Service” travel time between the two Midwestern cities by more than 1 hour, from 5 hours and 40 minutes to 4 hours and 30 minutes.

The re-engined “Lincoln Service” is part of a multi-year program to improve one of Illinois’ most historic train routes. The Chicago & Alton line was completed in 1855 with legal help from Springfield attorney Abraham Lincoln. The Union Pacific, owner of the railroad track, has worked with the federal government to build safety fencing along much of the track. Double track has been laid in some sections. Some road crossings have been closed. Warning of faster train speeds, both public and private authorities are strengthening their commands to pedestrians and motorists to stay off the tracks.

“Mr. Cub” Ernie Banks’ permanent memorial unveiled at Graceland Cemetery. Baseball Hall of Famer Ernie Banks is remembered by fans at his Wrigley Field statue, which has been erected in a place of honor in front of the baseball park’s red marquee. The veteran slugger and first baseman now also has a memorial stone erected at his gravesite in nearby Graceland Cemetery. The cemetery marker, unveiled on Monday, August 28, contains an inscription that includes his uniform number #14 and the words, “Let’s play two.” Banks died in January 2015 at age 83, twenty-two months prior to the Cubs’ historic World Series victory in November 2016.

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