- Associated Press - Monday, April 18, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Votes would be asked to change the Illinois Constitution to declare that the state should be responsible for the majority of public school funding under a measure that advanced in the state House Monday.

Republicans on a House education panel that approved the proposal on a 12-4 vote were skeptical of the idea, saying it would make it difficult to fund other budget obligations.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is carrying the bill, told the panel of lawmakers he wants to bolster the state’s constitutional language to call education a fundamental “right” instead of the current language that declares it a “goal.” He said the change would strengthen the state’s obligation to fund schools so they’re not so reliant on property taxes.

Property taxes today make up the majority of support for public schools, Madigan said, with the state pitching in about 34 percent of the total cost. Madigan’s proposal doesn’t put a percentage on how much the state would be on the hook for. But he repeatedly said it would amount to at least 51 percent under the proposed language, which says the state has the “preponderant financial responsibility” to fund schools.

The amendment would be on November’s ballot if three-fifths of each legislative chamber approves it. Those votes are expected to come later.

Madigan said if the change happens, “going forward, those of us who are advocating for more state support for education would have a constitutional backing for our argument.”

He also said that “education would be placed on a higher plane than other rights afforded to the citizens of this state under the constitution.”

The potential for Illinois to take on a greater funding obligation for schools worried Republicans who said the state is already in dire financial straits with other responsibilities, including payments to a pension system that’s in the red at more than $111 billion.

“Aren’t you concerned that this language also, depending on good years or bad years, will create some very big concerns about lack of flexibility in the area of funding?” Rockford Republican Rep. Joe Sosnowski asked Madigan.

With the state in the 10th month without a budget, funding public schools has become one of the latest battle lines in the standoff between Democrats who control the Legislature and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Rauner has urged lawmakers to pass a “clean” budget bill for education to ensure schools open in the fall. Democrats are saying they first want to change the formula for funding education to make it more equitable.

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