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An attempt to fix a broken school funding system

Tuesday, Feb 4, 2014

* David Ormsby has a long post on a new proposal to revamp school funding

“The disparity between school districts that have resources and those that don’t is only getting worse, meaning too many children are being denied an equal opportunity for a quality public education,” Manar stated.

Manar’s plan would combine the state’s current funding sources, which each have their own rules, regulations and paperwork, into one funding formula that would account for school districts’ funding needs. The committee recommended ending Chicago’s individual block grant.

The majority of state school funding is provided through General State Aid, which is distributed based on school districts’ needs. But schools also receive separate funding through grants to programs, including special education and transportation, which are not distributed based on need.

* As does Jamey Dunn at the Illinois Issues blog

. The goals as stated in the report are:

    Make use of a single funding formula.
    Provide additional funding to at-risk, special education and English-language learner students through the single formula.
    Hold districts and students to higher standards.
    Require districts to provide greater clarity on how funds are expended.
    Guarantee that all districts receive a fair amount of minimum funding from the state.
    Ensure that districts retain the same level of funding as under the current funding system for a period of time once a new funding system is adopted.
    Include an accurate reflection of a district’s ability to fund education programs within the district.
    Equalize taxing ability between dual districts and unit districts.
    Review the financial burden placed on school districts through instructional and non-instructional mandates.
    Provide additional transparency regarding the distribution of education funding.

The group plans to emphasize equity with a focus on more sunlight in education budgeting at both the state and local levels and an assessment of costly requirements placed on schools by law. “We had significant discussion about the cost of mandates to local school districts and how we can better address those costs on the legislative level,” said Manar, who is from Bunker Hill.

* From Kurt Erickson’s take

The group found that the majority of state aid flowing to school districts is not based on whether a district can afford to pay for it out of local property tax dollars.

“The disparity between school districts that have resources and those that don’t is only getting worse, meaning too many children are being denied an equal opportunity for a quality public education,” Manar said.

But revamping the formula could mean some districts will get fewer state dollars, triggering turf battles among lawmakers and potentially dooming the proposal.

For example, state aid for Chicago schools is handled differently than funding for downstate schools. If the state’s largest city is in line to see a drop in state aid, members of the House and Senate could ignore Manar’s call for change.

* Sen. Daniel Biss gets the last word…

Illinois’ education funding system is so broken that the state is now sending school districts nearly random amounts of money. For the last three years, aid to schools has been prorated across the board, which is among the least thoughtful and most regressive ways of dealing with a budget shortfall.

That’s why I’m thankful to the members of the Senate Education Funding Advisory Committee for spending the last six months thinking through some of the most complex questions we face and listening to those who directly experience the effects of haphazard state aid. I’m very encouraged by the committee’s recommendations. Rolling most types of state K-12 funding into a single formula is the best way to give local school districts the resources they need.

Changing the formula that distributes money to school districts will never be painless or easy. But the committee’s recommendations are a firm step in the right direction, and I’m excited about supporting and assisting the committee this spring as we work toward a formula that does what it was intended to do.

Finally, any formula is pointless unless we fully fund it. Once we come up with a formula we believe in, we must devote enough state dollars to make it work. Adequate state funding for education must be a primary consideration as we address the state’s budget and tax structure.

Thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller        


33 Comments
  1. - Carl Nyberg - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 12:28 pm:

    Has anyone ever provided an answer to the question: What would a “fixed”/fair/appropriate education policy look like?


  2. - Carl Nyberg - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 12:31 pm:

    Liberals love to talk about “equality”, but educated liberals w/ money don’t seek out the middle-of-the-road schools.

    They go to affluent communities or avail themselves of the magnet schools.

    The “Conservatives” want to create a system of schools with a well-established hierarchy where it sucks to be poor. And unionized teachers are powerless in electoral politics.


  3. - Carl Nyberg - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 12:35 pm:

    The underlying issue for American schools is the American economy.

    Society has implemented policies that give lots of money to the 1%, increased anxiety for people in the middle and marginalized people at the bottom. These policies were implemented in a society where racism already played a major role in… everything.

    And somehow public schools have made minor improvements in spite of the way society has stacked the deck against the schools.

    But the underlying problem is our dysfunction economy. No amount of tweaking education policy is going to fix economic policy.


  4. - Formerly Known As... - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 12:49 pm:

    Dillard has also been hitting the school funding formula for quite a while now.


  5. - Anon - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 12:50 pm:

    IL has the nation’s widest funding disparities between rich and poor districts. While small differences in funding may not matter much, huge differences do affect the quality of education and of opportunity.

    The problem is legislators who prefer the status quo to eliminating shocking disparities. Even though they swore to uphold the state constitution that commits us to “eliminate poverty and inequality; assure legal, social and economic justice; provide opportunity for the fullest development of the individual.”


  6. - AnonymousOne - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 12:51 pm:

    ==any formula is pointless unless we fully fund it==

    That would require money. Taxpayers want the increase rescinded but they want better schools, better roads, fixed bridges, etc. Someone has to pay for these things. I don’t think anyone who is against increased taxes (or keeping the 5%) has any business opening their mouths about “poor” schools. You just can’t have it both ways—low taxes, lots of quality services.


  7. - G'Kar - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 12:52 pm:

    I believe the report is on the right track. Unfortunately, I also agree with Erikson’s assessment that it will never pass, especially if Chicago is to be part of the new revised funding formula.


  8. - LincolnLounger - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 1:15 pm:

    It’s too bad that Sen. Biss didn’t run for Treasurer. He’s eminently more qualified than the glad-handing, tweeting-obsessed Frerichs. Biss thrives on policy, but Frerichs lives for the political process — specifically how it affects him.

    I think Biss’ wonkish approach to the Treasurer’s office would have been fascinating to watch.


  9. - Anon - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 1:18 pm:

    Districts that enjoy an advantage under the status quo, including Chicago, will fight to protect their advantage. Districts that suffer under the status quo will see things get worse given the trendlines. And our decrepit school funding system will hobble along.

    A big reason our system of funding is more inequitable than in other states is the supreme courts in many other states ruled that disparities smaller than ours were unconstitutional and ordered the legislatures to devise more fair systems.


  10. - Skirmisher - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 1:22 pm:

    There is nothing in that report to dispute. The level of funding to many southern Illinois school districts is a disgrace. However, I also agree with other observers that in Illinois, everything is political and nothing is likely to change. Those with the power will take the money, regardless of need.


  11. - DuPage - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 1:39 pm:

    Quote of Dan Biss, =”any formula is pointless unless we fully fund it…state funding for education must be a primary consideration”=

    Doesn’t he consider teachers pensions to be part of overall funding for education? Part of the cost of a school is compensation for the teachers. Part of the cost of teachers compensation is the state matching funds for TRS.


  12. - AnonymousOne - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 1:45 pm:

    Somehow Biss and others don’t seem to recognize that the largest cost of operating a school is paying the personnel. That includes their benefits and deferred compensation. What would a school consist of if only students showed up? Once people like him get “theirs” from the system, they like to kick the people who got them there in the teeth.


  13. - Arizona Bob - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 1:59 pm:

    Here’s an idea, why not make state school funding inversely proportional to average teacher and adminstrator compensation based on contact hours?

    E.G. if a suburban school district can afford to pay $120K+ for nine months for a gym teacher who didn’t have to “earn” that princely rate through exceptional performance, a strong case can be made that the district shouldn’t get state funds over those with true need. Same goes for overfunded districts and special ed.

    Want to help the children in financially strapped schools? End the “prevailing wage” scam that overinflates construction and maintenance rates by 25 to 50% over market rates.

    End the “right” for teachers to strike when the district is running a deficit and is already paying at least 65% of its operating expenses in salaries and benefits.

    Both these protections against cheating students would do a lot to shift funds to their interest over the unions which bribe…errr…”contribute” to state legislators and the Guv.

    This isn’t about the kids…it’s about feeding the bloated ed bureacracy from a bankrupt state.


  14. - AnonymousOne - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 2:03 pm:

    Yeah, here’s a better idea……skip any kind of personnel at all. Think of the savings. Just dump all the cash into books and materials, heat the buildings and let the kids have at it. Who needs those outrageously paid teachers anyway, Bob?


  15. - Arizona Bob - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 2:04 pm:

    =”What would a school consist of if only students showed up?”=

    Based on the latest test scores from many “poor” but high spending school districts (CPS, Rich Twp 227, etc.) self teaching on line with parental and community support (it takes a village, right?)perhaps the students would be better served than with $100K IEA, CTU, and IFT staff!


  16. - Steve - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 2:16 pm:

    Just a reminder: no one really believes in equal funding for education. The high income tax payers one way or another will spend more money on their children’s education- even if it means leaving the public school system. Just ask Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama, Mayor Daley, Mike Madigan ,and Alderman Ed Burke where they sent their children.


  17. - Commander Norton - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 2:24 pm:

    In an ideal world, teacher pensions would have be fully funded all along. But as often as pension reform was touted as one of the toughest votes legislators would ever face, it wasn’t as tough as voting to raise taxes or revamp the tax structure over the long haul.

    The education funding task force only addressed the distribution of funding and not its adequacy because the Republicans on the committee wouldn’t sign on to something that said the state doesn’t spend enough. Biss (who would make a great treasurer, by the way, although I’d argue we need him to stay in the General Assembly) is right that the key question is how much money is going into the formula. In particular, a “hold harmless” provision, which will phase in changes and keep members whose districts would lose money from the proposal from jumping ship, will cost even more money than what we’re spending now.


  18. - Anon - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 2:25 pm:

    AZ Bob

    Property poor districts can’t afford to pay teachers 120,000 a year. Consequently, making it illegal to strike wouldn’t have much effect on poor districts that are already low paying.


  19. - Robert the Bruce - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 2:26 pm:

    ==Here’s an idea, why not make state school funding inversely proportional to average teacher and adminstrator compensation based on contact hours?==
    I’m no fan of teacher unions, but wow, what an odd, extreme suggestion. Race to the bottom, anyone? Minimum wage chemistry teachers with 45 to a classroom!

    Though I do hear your overall point about high salaried teachers instructing already well-to-do north shore kids. And I could see some form of your suggestion - a “luxury tax”/reduction of state benefits on school districts with a small percentage of low income students but a large percentage of $100k+ teachers?


  20. - LittleLebowskiUrbanAchiever - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 2:46 pm:

    I’m pretty sure that the State has made it pension payments every year Daniel Biss has been in the legislature. Which correlates to Gov Quinn’s tenure.


  21. - Steve Reick - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 3:10 pm:

    The above comments re: the politics of implementation are well taken. A quick reading of the report raises several questions. The definition of “at risk” includes students on Medicaid, collecting SNAP. With the expansion of these programs to unheard of levels, this could become a very large group. Second, with the implementation of Common Core, how will the Higher Expectations and Accountability section be affected?


  22. - School tax payer - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 3:14 pm:

    I just took a quick look at the ISBE data for school year 2012-2013. Looking at the 646 high schools only (grade 11 in the ISBE data) with usable data, I found that instructional expenditures per student ran from just over $3,600 to just under $13,000. These per student expenditures values exclude other expenses such as tort, transportation, capital, etc. that are not directly related to instruction. This is almost a $10,000 per student per year difference or put another way, a ratio of almost 4:1 between the highest and lowest spending high schools in the state for instruction.

    Using the number of students that meet or exceed state standards on all tests (the composite value) and the instructional expenditures per pupil value I found that the correlation coefficient for these values was -0.06. This means that instructional expenditure and student achievement in Illinois are not related, based on the ISBE data, for high school students.


  23. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 3:16 pm:

    ==Ensure that districts retain the same level of funding as under the current funding system for a period of time once a new funding system is adopted.==

    So, unless there is more money put in, nothing changes. At least for the first few years.


  24. - Hit or Miss - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 3:28 pm:

    ==Property poor districts can’t afford to pay teachers 120,000 a year.==

    I agree with the idea that property poor districts cannot pay high salaries. However, what is the relationship (the correlation coefficient) between teacher salaries and test scores? Do high salaries mean high test scores?


  25. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 3:30 pm:

    Teachers do a bad job…and we pay them too much.

    Seriously? Teachers have a difficult job and are typically undersupported - poorly equipped classrooms, limited mentoring for new teachers, and no money for supplies (which teachers often buy out of pocket). 50% leave the profession within the first five years. If the profession were properly supported and compensated, you would see teachers stay in the profession.

    If you wish to analyze salaries, feel free: http://www.isbe.state.il.us/research/htmls/teacher_salary.htm

    I think you will find few teachers make more than $100,000/year and that to get to that pay level, they need advanced degrees and many years of service.

    If you want good teachers, it costs money to hire and keep them, just as it would in any profession.


  26. - Commander Norton - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 4:10 pm:

    @Steve Reick -

    The SNAP rolls have expanded along with poverty. And that expansion has slowed with the gradual economic recovery. The Medicaid program has been expanded - but to add childless adults without disabilities who previously had not been eligible for coverage. The eligibility rules for children have not changed, so any increase in the Medicaid population of school-aged children should be a result of increased need. If so, then the formula will be doing what it is supposed to do, which is make sure districts have additional resources to educate high-need students. If that’s an unprecedently large group, then our K-12 system will need to deal with that reality, one way or another.

    “Higher standards” and “accountability” aren’t defined in the report. Again, these are buzz words, just like the explicit decision to address distribution and not adequacy. The implementation of Common Core has altered the state standards and the assessment used to test them. I don’t know why those changes would preclude using the new test scores for accountability purposes (even though I question the value of test scores as true measures of whether schools are working for students).


  27. - Bobby Hill - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 4:32 pm:

    It takes very little involvement with a public school to realize how bad “education” people are with tax money. Board members are even worse.


  28. - Mama - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 4:40 pm:

    Schools like East St Louis have very little property tax values. Therefore, they need more funds from the feds & state in order to operate their schools and pay the teachers to provide an education for their students. The rich schools in northern IL (collar co) have a lot of property value to tax so why should the rich schools get the same amount of funding as the poor schools? Flat funding makes no sense!


  29. - Buzzie - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 5:21 pm:

    1. How many responders attend monthly school board meetings and, during “public comment” ask for more detailed information on how AND why specific money is being spent? There is a good chance the money is being expended on federal and/or state unfunded or underfunded mandated programs.
    2. Before people use student standardized test results as a criteria for measuring the “success or failure” of a school (or an individual student) it would be wise to investigate how the tests are designed, how much of the test content actually relates to school district curricula (unless the goal is to have schools teach the test), and what is the relationship of these tests to higher level critical thinking skills (hint: zero).


  30. - Juvenal - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 5:26 pm:

    Biss is right.

    Across-the-board cuts are a lazy way to implement budget cuts that perpetuates inequalities and poor policies of the past.

    Priority ought to be given to the poorest school districts.

    Mailing a state check to the state’s most affluent districts is like throwing sand on the beach.

    I’m not even sure a floor for state funding makes sense, and the hold harmless may be a political necessity but it is poor budget policy.

    We had a hold harmless implemented in the 90’s i believe that made sure school districts got the same amount of cash despite declining enrollment.

    That is just wackadoodle.


  31. - Walter Mitty - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 8:17 pm:

    School consolidation. Every school district is K-12… I will take Elmhurst 205 over New Trier and Stevenson any day. Taxes are for one school k-12… Those areas have multiple k-5. 6-8 districts feeding in. It makes no sense for effective and efficient process of educating kids in silos. Then guess what no more funding problems….


  32. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Feb 4, 14 @ 8:46 pm:

    ==It takes very little involvement with a public school to realize how bad “education” people are with tax money. Board members are even worse.==

    Are you on a school board? Have you built a school budget? I am and I have and it isn’t easy. There are state and federal mandates to be met and limits on where most of the funds can be spent. I am sure there are wasteful boards out there, but I would be willing to bet that many, if not most, are like my board. We keep a tight reign on spending and do the best we can with the limited resources we have.

    And, my hats are off to the teachers who spend their own money to buy supplies for their rooms and students. They are quite responsible as well.

    Bobby Hill: If your district is so messed up, you need to run for the board and help them out.


  33. - Bobby Hill - Wednesday, Feb 5, 14 @ 9:26 am:

    Yes I have been and yes I have. Pot, what is your point? That it’s hard. Thanks for that.

    Although, I disagree with your assessment on the competency of most boards. That has not been my experience. There aren’t too many boards I come across that at least 6 or the 7 members are nothing but cheerleaders or trying to fire a coach.

    And thank goodness for those mandates and the separate funds or who knows what/who administrators and boards would ignore. I once had someone tell me special education is ruining public education. I explained my view that welfare programs like public education are meant specifically to take care of those in our society that need it the most.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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