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City Property Taxes Could Go Up 2.5% Under School Bill Passed By Senate

 Mayor Rahm Emanuel said a tax hike might be needed to ensure the city can
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said a tax hike might be needed to ensure the city can "pay teachers' pensions and invest in children."
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DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

CHICAGO — The Illinois Senate approved a new school-funding formula Tuesday that would give the Chicago Public Schools about $450 million more than last year — by allowing city officials to hike most homeowners' property taxes by 2.5 percent, officials said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the measure's passage — with 38 votes — as "another win for children and communities throughout the Land of Lincoln. For far too long, Illinois has ranked dead last in the country for funding its highest poverty school districts. Now we are poised to reform that inequitable and insufficient funding formula."

Gov. Bruce Rauner said he would sign the measure, even though it contains $150 million more for CPS than the original school-funding measure that the Republican governor derided as a bailout of Chicago's mismanaged schools.

"For far too long, too many low-income students in our state have been trapped in underfunded, failing schools," Rauner stated. "The system needed to change. We have changed it. We have put aside our differences and put our kids first. It's a historic day for Illinois."

According to CPS officials, schools will receive an additional:

• $221 million toward employee pensions

• $76 million under the new formula that sends more money to districts with a high percentage of low-income students

• $18.5 million for early education programs

• $13 million for bilingual education programs

CPS will lose $4 million from other programs under a variety of changes approved as part of the state budget, officials said.

In addition, the legislation expected to be signed Thursday by Rauner would allow the Chicago Board of Education — whose members are appointed by Emanuel — to generate $125 million by hiking property taxes about 2.5 percent for the average homeowner, district officials said.

Emanuel said the tax hike was necessary to put CPS on firmer financial footing and protect the gains made by students in recent years.

"We never wanted to be in a situation where it was a choice between continuing to invest in our children's future or paying our teachers' pensions," Emanuel said. "So we'll be able to do our pensions and continue to invest in our children."

That tax hike could account for about half of the $269 million that CPS needs from the city to make ends meet.

Cook County Clerk David Orr said district officials could hike property taxes more, to generate $163 million, because the Board of Education did not raise taxes by the maximum amount allowed by law this year.

The looming property tax hike comes two years after the City Council increased property taxes by $588 million during the next four years, the largest jump in the city's history, to foot the bill for police and fire pensions.

The measure also includes $75 million for a tuition tax credit program that would offer families scholarships to send their children to private or parochial schools — or to pay the cost to send their sons or daughters to a public school outside their home school district, officials said. Opponents of that effort criticized it as a voucherlike program that could "decimate public schools."

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