A proposal to dramatically overhaul the state’s school funding formula and allocate more money to poorer districts moved ahead in the Illinois Senate on Tuesday. The regionally divisive issue, however, likely faces a tough road in gaining support from both parties in both chambers. […]
After a nearly three-hour subcommittee debate, the issue was sent by a party line vote to another Senate committee, where it must be approved before it can advance to the chamber floor.
Under the plan, 92 percent of total state education funding would be distributed by factoring in districts’ poverty levels, accounting for low-income students using a weighted formula. The legislation also uses the number of students receiving free and reduced-priced lunches to determine who qualifies for additional low income dollars, which Manar says is in practice with most other states.
Only specialized programs for special education and early childhood education would be exempted from the formula. And, for the first time in decades, funding for Chicago Public Schools would be treated under the same formula as the rest of the state.
* Republicans have so far been against the proposal…
Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, served as co-chair with Manar on the education funding committee and agrees with the bill’s concept of a single formula that would fund schools more equitably. But he believes Manar’s proposal goes too far and said “it’s debatable whether we should put over 90 percent into the formula.”
Luechtefeld pointed out that some expenditures, such as transportation, are based on factors other than a district’s need.
* Not having numbers is a problem, for sure…
[Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine)] agreed that the system used to fund schools needs to be fixed, but questioned the wisdom of acting on a proposal when school administrators and lawmakers alike don’t know how the proposed overhaul would affect funding levels of individual districts.
“How do we know that this formula in this bill will work better than the current one if we have no idea how it’s going to work because we haven’t run the numbers?” Murphy said. “Why can’t we run the numbers and find out?”
Illinois State Board of Education legislative liaison Amanda Elliot said the agency is working on compiling that data, but cautioned that the figures span “multiple divisions.” According to ISBE public information director Matt Vanover, it could be at least a month before the numbers are available.
“We’re looking at having (the data) by mid-May,” he said.
David Lett, superintendent of Unit 8 schools in Pana, told the subcommittee he’s run some of the numbers internally on his own to see whether his ailing district would see relief under the proposed new formula and found they would do better than they do currently.
* But having numbers could also be a big problem…
[Bloom Township Schools Treasurer Rob Grossi] said districts like D.167, which receives nearly a third of its funding from the state, are at the mercy of state government financial woes. More wealthy districts that take in more in property taxes and need less state money can weather the fiscal problems in Springfield easier, Grossi said. Most districts in Cook County have low property tax values per pupil.
Once the calculations are done for individual school districts, it will be difficult for senators and representatives of districts who will lose funding to vote for the bill, Grossi said.
“The changes in this bill are so significant that it changes the entire model (for education spending),” Grossi said Tuesday. “Once the numbers determine the winners and losers, it will be hard for some of them to support it.”