Education | Politics

A Look at Illinois’s New School Funding Reform Bill

The first part in an ongoing analysis of the rebirth of SB 16

In June 2012, as students across Illinois received their report cards in the mail, the state itself received a report card, and didn’t exactly make the honor roll. A report titled “Is School Funding Fair?” produced by Rutgers University and the Education Law Center in New Jersey, gave the state a big fat F in distribution of funding. The data showed that, in general, the more concentrated poverty was in an Illinois school district, the less state and local funding it was getting. Of forty-eight states ranked in the report, Illinois was second-to-last.

“That some kids would have twice as much [funding] and a head start to others is a terrible thing,” said state representative for the 26th District Christian Mitchell, co-sponsor of an education funding reform bill, previously known as SB 16, that is scheduled to be reintroduced with changes when the legislative session opens next week.

State Senator Andy Manar, of the 48th District, introduced SB 16 (also called the School Funding Reform Act of 2014) in last April. The bill responded to recommendations by a committee the Senate had created in 2013 in the wake of the Rutgers “report card.” The bill passed in the Senate and went to the House rules committee, but got stuck there and never made it to a vote.

The new version of the bill combines various streams and grants into a single formula that sets a “foundation level” of aid and adds weights for districts that might require more funding. The weights depend on factors like concentration of low-income students, English language-learners, special education students, gifted students, and transportation needs. The district’s “available local resources,” such as property tax revenues, are subtracted from the calculation, and the state pays the rest.

Exact funding details from the new version have yet to be released, but Mitchell was able to identify a few key changes. He said that the new bill will address specific concerns about funding for special needs students, may include adjustments for employee cost of living in certain districts, and may also remedy some cases where high-poverty districts end up losing money.

Mitchell also hopes the bill could be an opportunity to investigate the fairness of funding within CPS, including inequities between North and South Side schools. If passed, all Illinois districts would be required to report their funding distribution to the state, giving it the chance to check the CPS budget before handing out funding.

However, even with these changes, the bill won’t be palatable to everyone. Instead of adding funding, the bill would redistribute it so that some districts lose portions of their current funds to others.

Districts that will get less money under the bill, including many suburban districts, are unlikely to support it. A Google search for “Illinois SB 16” returns letters, PowerPoints, op-eds, and even Change.org petitions by various superintendents and lawmakers, many from suburban districts, galvanizing their communities to fight against the bill.

But the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE)’s funding projections for the previous version, SB 16, also revealed that CPS would lose about $38.5 million under the bill, even though 84.9 percent of its students are low income and it educates 32.7 percent of the low income students in the state.

Mitchell, however, claims this is a mistake: he says ISBE used 2013 numbers in their calculations and therefore missed some money, and that under the new bill CPS would actually gain money. If this is true, the updated numbers for the new version of the bill, combined with the changes that Mitchell mentioned, could appease some critics—at least within Chicago.

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