State budget woes force new funding formula on area school districts

By Laura Katauskas

Staff Reporter

The long standing grapple with what is seen as unequitable school funding throughout Illinois continues as lawmakers fight to keep proposed legislation moving despite opposition.

When lawmakers passed the fiscal 2018 budget, state aid became dependent on the separate passage of a new school funding formula.

According to advocates to change the way schools are funded, Illinois’ current system is flawed, in fact, ranking last in the nation in providing school funding to the neediest students. For the past four years, there has been a call to fix this school funding formula. Senate Bill 1 was drafted, aiming to drive dollars to the neediest districts first. Success was made and the General Assembly passed SB1 May 31, with supporters calling it a triumph for school districts across all of Illinois.

However, earlier this month, Governor Rauner issued an amendatory veto of SB1. According to the Illinois Policy Institute the amendatory veto, strips a bailout of Chicago Public Schools and other elements from the bill, including an attempt to prevent a future pension cost shift, and eliminates special subsidies. As altered by the veto, the state would pay for the normal cost of Chicago teacher pensions going forward. But the other extra funds granted to CPS have been eliminated.

On Sunday, August 13, the Illinois Senate voted to override the governor’s veto of the school funding reform legislation that would bring nearly $15 million to area schools.

In response, State Senator Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant said, “An immediate splurge of dollars seems tempting to rule out the validity of SB 1. However, long term outcomes of the amendatory veto will erode the years of work and lead to larger problems. The education funding bill is the most significant reform in over 20 years; reform that will bring certainty to school funding, as well as fair funding for our students.”

Bertino-Tarrant said many school districts would receive short term gains under the governor’s proposal but its long-term effects are unclear.

“Under the governor’s plan, he punishes school districts by removing the hold harmless clause. Districts, such as Plainfield, Valley View and Joliet, where student enrollment has declined, would be faced with less dollars in two years, “ said Bertino-Tarrant. “Furthermore, components placed into Senate Bill 1 to protect suburban schools throughout the 49th District would be eroded with the rising costs of educating our children due to the governor’s veto. The careful protections, discussed for years, to address the needs of our districts have been thoughtlessly dismissed by the governor.”

Valley View School District 365u Assistant Superintendent Gary Grizaffi said the district has have yet to receive any models or printouts of how the Governor’s amendatory veto will impact SB 1 calculations but believes adding TIF EAV to the calculations is detrimental because schools would not be able to access that EAV (in collecting property taxes which fund the school district).

Bertino-Tarrant and fellow Senator Pat McGuire believe SB 1 is the best way forward.

The new formula in SB1 ties school funding to 27 evidence-based best practices that are shown to enhance student achievement in the classroom. SB1 calculates a unique adequacy target for each school district by applying the same 27 research-based elements to unique district demographics. A summary of SB1 indicated that no district would lose money, keeping the starting point at the amount of funding the district has this year. All new state funding going forward would be on top of what districts currently receive.

SB 1 would calculate the cost of a quality education based on 27 elements, including the number of teachers, aides, nurses and librarians each school district needs to educate the students it serves. SB1 eliminates block grants so CPS will go through the claims process like every other district. SB1 would determine how much a district should be contributing from local property taxes—this is defined as a district’s “Local Capacity Target.” Districts with lower property wealth are expected to contribute less to the cost of education than higher wealth districts.

“One of the state’s most important responsibilities is to properly fund education,” said State Rep. Natalie Manley, D-Joliet. “Unfortunately, for far too long we have not been doing this in a way that is fair and equitable to all of students. SB 1, which changed the way we would fund public schools, was the result of many years of discussion by legislators, superintendents and advocates to ensure that all of our schools are adequately funded. However with his amendatory veto, Gov. Rauner radically changed this legislation and put funding for our schools in jeopardy.”

Yet, others feel bipartisan politics are at play. State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) issued the following statement :

“Instead of using Governor Rauner’s Amendatory Veto as a bridge to bipartisan compromise on education funding reform, Senate Democrats instead chose to override the Governor’s Amendatory Veto of Senate Bill 1 on their own, legislation that treats Chicago Public Schools better than the rest of the state.

“I am fighting for more new funding and true equity for schools in my Senate District. Senate Bill 1 takes money that should be going to schools in our area and sends it to Chicago. That is not fair. I believe a compromise can be found on this issue, but we are running out of time. Let’s get serious and solve this issue together.”

Still others believe that SB 1 is not the answer. State Senator John Curran (R-Downers Grove) states that the school funding reform bill fails to address the sweeping school funding inequities across the state.

“I could not in good conscience vote for the school funding bill presented today. Senate Bill 1 does not represent a bipartisan solution to our broken school funding formula. Illinois needs a fair and equitable distribution system that treats all 852 school districts equally-that treats every child equally. We need to work together to ensure that students in low-income school districts get the resources they need to get the quality education they deserve. I believe bipartisan compromise is possible and my colleagues and I have been willing to return to the negotiations table at any time to achieve real school funding reform.”

In order to make SB 1 law, the House must also override the Governor’s veto.

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