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Major school funding overhaul advances

Wednesday, Apr 9, 2014

* AP

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.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - OneMan - Wednesday, Apr 9, 14 @ 11:30 am:

    Still kind of worried that capital spending does not seem to be taken into account.

  2. - The Captain - Wednesday, Apr 9, 14 @ 11:33 am:

    Part of the difficulty of any school funding debate is that the funding formulas are so complicated that it’s difficult to run the complicated calculations and any changes require new calculations that are equally complex.

    A few summers ago I had some free time and tried to create a computer model of the funding formulas in my free time. I was able to map out the formulas but the problem was that much of the needed data inputs were not publicly available. (there are various needed inputs like average daily attendance, corporate PPR taxes, budget year and prior year EAV, three year average low income count, etc.) The SBE made some of that data available publicly but not all of it. If the data is not publicly available then only SBE can run the numbers and make projections when issues like this arise.

    A lot of civic minded computer programmers are jumping on the open data bandwagon and trying to implement helpful solutions to difficult problems. The City of Chicago has bent over backwards to make their data sets available in useful formats and you’re seeing a lot of volunteer projects that are publicly helpful. If the SBE committed to making education funding data available I’d bet you’d see some people get behind an effort to design something that could make this complicated education funding issue a little easier to understand.

    Regardless of what your political position is or your priorities are for education funding the entire discussion would benefit from better and more useful data and information.

  3. - The Southern - Wednesday, Apr 9, 14 @ 11:59 am:

    “You have to pass it to find out what is in it”?

  4. - DuPage - Wednesday, Apr 9, 14 @ 12:32 pm:

    Decades back, a newspaper published the amounts school districts spent per student and how much they got from the state per student. I remember it because Wheaton District 200 spent the same amount but the ratios were reversed. Both spent $6200 per student. Wheaton: $5300 local, $900 state. Chicago: $900 local, $5300 state.
    Daley knew what he was doing. Keep the local school tax low, and the state would give him more. The suburbs would vote referendums to raise the school tax, and the state would reduce the state funding.
    I would like an update on this funding per student supplied local/state without the smokescreens or accounting tricks. Then we need to know exactly how any particular “funding overhaul” would affect each school district.

  5. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Apr 9, 14 @ 1:30 pm:

    This won’t be partisan. Once the members figure out who wins and who loses it will be a matter of whether the legislators with winner outnumber those with losers.

  6. - cicero - Wednesday, Apr 9, 14 @ 1:56 pm:

    Illinois relies upon property taxes to fund education moreso than any other state. Combine that with the state aid forumla, and here’s the result: As the concentration of poverty in a school district rises, funding consistently drops.

    Less funding translates into higher teacher-to-pupil ratios in poor districts compared to districts with smaller percentages of students from low-income families.

    Illinois ranks among the most regressive states in the nation when it comes to ensuring students who need the help the most get it. In the Land of Lincoln, kids who need the least get the most. And that’s the way they want to keep it.

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