* Call it a good start…
A change to the way the state doles out school funding passed in the Senate today, but a House floor vote on the bill is not expected before session is scheduled to adjourn later this week.
Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat, sponsored Senate Bill 16, which supporters say could make school funding for poor communities more equalized to wealthier communities. A Senate committee spent months evaluating the current funding formula after questions arose about drastic disparities between schools throughout the state. The plan would put more of the money the state sends to local school districts through a filter that would weight funding more heavily toward factors such as whether students live in poverty or are bilingual learners. It would also consider the need of local districts that have less affluent property tax bases for local funding. “Will there be winners and losers under a new funding formula? Absolutely. But those winners and losers will be based on need and resources and not what their zip code is,” said Democratic Sen. John Sullivan of Rushville. “We’ve all said that around here for years that it ought to be based on not where you live, but what resources you have, and Senate Bill 16 addresses that.” […]
Lawmakers agreed that the state’s education funding formula needs to be changed, but Republicans questioned whether this legislation is the right way to go. Manar said when asked of the debate, “I was quite shocked at their defense of the status quo at the debate and it’s as if (Republicans) are immune or numb to the reality of what is going on in the state today. There’s no reason to pause, there’s no reason.” […]
The legislation would not take effect until July of 2015 and would allow a phase in period to let schools adjust to the newly proposed funding formula.
There is a reason to pause. Even Manar admitted that the bill wasn’t quite soup yet.
Some Republicans added they would have to vote against the bill out of principle, even though it helped their district, because they wanted to make sure that the state maintained a minimum amount of spending per student, or a “foundation level.”
“If you look at the winners and losers list for this bill, my district wins, my schools would get more money almost uniformly,” said state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon. “There are times when we act focused solely on our districts and then there are times when we act focused more broadly on what the policy is statewide and what the long term policy is…. If this bill becomes law the one objective measuring stick that we have to say that we are funding to the degree that we said we would will be change dramatically, that is the foundation level. The $6,119 per child that this General Assembly and this Governor have said is the absolute minimum a child can spend in these schools and give them an adequate education… is no longer locked in statute.”
* But the sole Republican vote for the bill explained why that foundation argument doesn’t really hold up. From a press release…
“The current formula is out of touch with current fiscal realities and it creates major disparities throughout the state,” said Senator Sam McCann.
One of the major issues identified in the Senate GOP report was that state dollars have been redirected from the basic foundation formula grant, which was established to ensure all students are guaranteed a minimum level of funding.
“Senate Bill 16 reprioritizes state education funding by focusing funding priorities on need,” said McCann. “This means our poorest districts, the ones who rely the heaviest on state dollars, will see increases in funding. This is the way it should be.”
SB16 will slowly implement increases or decreases in funding over a period of three years. Currently, Senator McCann is finalizing the details of new legislation which would require the state to fully fund the formula, whether it’s the current formula, or the new system laid out by SB16. In recent years, the state has been paying less than 90% of the recommended level.
Under Manar’s bill, the state would send districts money based primarily on need.
Many collar counties would take a hit if the bill becomes law. In hopes to lessen the negative impact on districts, Manar has capped the amount of money a school district can “lose” in the matter at $1,000 per pupil.
* But some aren’t convinced…
“Poverty disparity is widened by this,” said state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine. “Current law is $3,000 dollars per poor kid in a high density poverty area, it’s $314 in a low poverty area. Under this bill it goes up to $4,800 all the way down to $12… That great school district in that rich area I live in has 31 percent poverty—we get $12 a kid for everything [in taxes] we send out.”
That school district Murph spoke of had cash reserves of over $148 million in 2012. They built that gigantic reserve by over-taxing by about $10.6 million each year.
* And, of course “Chicago“…
“The problem is the disproportionate funding that goes to one district… that benefits one district at the expense of every other student and child throughout this state,” said state Sen. Jason Barrickman, R-Bloomington, talking about the Chicago Block Grant.
The block grant is eliminated by this bill.
* One more link…
Manar added several amendments to his bill. They include giving more weight to at-risk students, capping the amount of money a district could lose per student, and funding early childhood programs, special education, and transportation.
One amendment that got left off the list was a proposal to allow schools to opt out of dozens of mandates, from teaching drivers ed to black history. Some senators thought that belonged in a separate bill.
Like I said, it ain’t soup yet.