Illinois leaders say they’ve reached school funding deal

CHICAGO — Illinois' top legislative leaders announced Thursday that they've tentatively reached a bipartisan agreement to fund public schools, but said details were still being worked out.

The four leaders have been meeting privately to resolve a funding fight that has held up state money for K-12 this year, a spinoff of Illinois' unprecedented two-year budget impasse which just ended last month. While all schools expect to open on time, districts have missed initial payments and aren't sure how long they can stay open.

Republicans and Democrats issued cautious statements after a meeting in Chicago. Democratic leaders Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan said there was "agreement in concept," while Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin characterized it as "agreement in principle."

"Language will be drafted and details of the agreement released once the drafts have been reviewed," the statement from Brady and Durkin read.

The four planned to meet again Sunday at the state Capitol, a day before the Illinois House was expected to convene. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner applauded the efforts.

The schools issue has come up now because the spending plan legislators approved last month, ending the long stalemate, requires a new funding formula. There's wide agreement that Illinois' 20-year-old calculation is unfair. But Democrats and Republicans have been at odds over fixes.

The Democrat-run Legislature approved a new formula aimed at reducing disparities in per-student funding that existed between wealthy and poor districts under the previous funding formula. But Rauner removed hundreds of millions of dollars for Chicago Public Schools, saying the plan was overly generous to the nation's third-largest district.

The Illinois Senate overrode Rauner's veto, and the House had planned a similar vote. But legislative leaders said they'd seek a compromise instead.

School superintendents across the state, particularly in central and southern Illinois, have been on edge with schools opening this fall. Many have cut back spending and say they'll have to borrow or dip into reserves to stay open.