Why Illinois school funding needs to be fixed now

Apr 25, 2017

Guest view

Tony Sanders is the CEO of SD U-46, based in Elgin; Gary Tipsord is the superintendent of downstate LeRoy CUSD 2

Bloomington-Normal has an abundance of healthcare, insurance and agriculture businesses and some of the lowest unemployment rates in the state. Go north 150 miles, and Elgin and surrounding suburbs are adapting to changing demographics and the 21st century economy.

While our communities may be a study in contrasts, we have much in common: Illinois’ broken school funding formula doesn’t work for us. LeRoy, a middle-class bedroom community near Bloomington-Normal, has the tax base to mostly overcome the state’s anemic funding levels, yet the state provides fewer dollars in recent years because property values have increased. That means either raising local property taxes or cutting services to students. In Elgin and surrounding communities that make up School District U-46, the second largest in the state, 58 percent of students qualify as low-income and nearly one-third (28 percent) of students are English learners. The local tax base can’t adequately fund the district, and the state doesn’t provide enough to make up for the deficit. Hundreds of counselors and teachers have been cut, and class sizes have risen, up to 33 students in some classes. Making matters worse, the lack of a state budget has led to delayed payments and a mounting shortage of funds. The bottom line is that per-pupil spending in Illinois is higher for wealthier students than for low-income students (81 cents for every dollar spent), even as we know low-income students have more academic needs. Illinois remains worst-in-the-nation for funding equity and second-worst for funding adequacy, according to The Education Trust.

There is hope this spring, however, as bills are picking up momentum in Springfield that could solve the problem once and for all. What’s new this year is that current proposals would not take dollars from any district and the coalition seeking reform is bigger and more diverse than ever before. There could be more money for special education, too. Further, there’s agreement from both sides of the aisle that a funding solution is needed: the Governor’s School Funding Commission studied school funding reform in-depth and released its findings early this year; and the House Education Task Force, appointed by Speaker Michael Madigan, is building off the Commission’s work and initiating its own exploration of the issue. For the first time in recent memory, a school funding reform bill passed a House Committee as lawmakers from both sides voted 15-1 to move a bill forward on March 30.

We believe that the best path forward is to utilize the Evidence Based Model, which has been used successfully to distribute school funding—and helped to lift achievement—in other states. EBM recognizes individual student needs, accounts for local ability to pay and closes gaps between low-income schools and wealthier peers and keeps the gaps closed. EBM also provides a local adequacy target, the estimated cost by a school district to provide a student a quality education, a powerful planning tool to allocate resources based on the unique needs of their district. Taxpayers also will be able to compare district spending to district performance, while receiving information about how much a district generates through property taxes and how much the state should contribute.

Right now, Illinois’ school funding formula is only working for a very small group of schools: the wealthiest schools that don’t rely on the state for funding. Those schools have the luxury of high property wealth. Legislators and advocates across the state recognize that the current model doesn’t work. Now is the time to fix the formula and give every Illinois student the opportunity for a high-quality education.

About Fix the Formula Illinois

Fix the Formula Illinois is a campaign of Advance Illinois, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, Educators 4 Excellence, Equity First, Funding Illinois’ Future, High School District Organizations of Illinois, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Illinois Association of School Business Officials, Illinois Principals Association, League of United Latin American Citizens, Teach Plus Illinois and Vision 20/20.

Follow #fixtheformula on Twitter or visit www.fundingilfuture.org to receive updates about the campaign.

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