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Thursday, May 22, 2014 12:01 am

Clock ticking for school funding reform

Politics and some losing districts could halt bill

Sen. Andy Manar, chief sponsor of school aid formula reform

 

About a year’s worth of work by Illinois senators to piece together a more equitable school funding formula in Illinois could either pass or come to a swift halt any day.

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, co-chaired the Education Funding Advisory Committee, which held hearings last year in order to recommend repairs to Illinois’ broken education funding formula. On April 1, Manar filed Senate Bill 16, which aims to distribute more state funds to school districts with lower local property tax revenues and higher student poverty rates.

Manar’s bill involves equity. His proposal suggests that, no matter how much money the state budgets for education, districts with the greatest need will receive funds before districts with greater local property wealth. However, representatives and senators who represent those property-rich or lower-poverty areas may be inclined to vote against any measure that takes away from their schools.

On May 16, the week before the measure was set to be voted on in the House, Manar said he had not received any Republican support on the measure.

“There’s been empty criticism coming from many members of the Senate,” he said. “I’ve been positive in trying to encourage everyone to balance the needs of their district with the needs of the state, because … we are headed for a disaster.”

Many legislators would not take a stance on the measure before the Illinois State Board of Education released the details on which districts would win and which would lose. According to ISBE’s calculations, many downstate districts would gain, and some Chicago schools would lose funds. Springfield District 186 would see state funding increase by 5.9 percent, about $2.5 million more. Other area “winners” include Auburn, which would see an additional $400,000, and Riverton, which would receive a 23 percent increase, or $1.2 million.

Local districts that would receive less funding include Ball-Chatham, which would see a 9.7 percent reduction, a cut of about $850,000. Pleasant Plains, Pawnee and Rochester would also face losses.

Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield, said he worries each time the school aid formula is addressed because every district wants more funding. He likened being a representative in a district where some schools would win and others lose to “sticking your hand in a box of snakes.”

“I’ll keep an open mind and look at it, but … I just don’t want more losers downstate at the end of the day.”

Poe said he thinks the current state education funding formula works.

The bill needs 30 votes to pass in the Senate, which has 40 Democrat members. The bill faces further challenges in the House because the lower chamber was not included on the education funding advisory committee.

The legislature could reduce enforcement of some “mandates,” or laws that serve as requirements for districts, in order to ease the burden on districts that would lose funding if the measure passes.

“Mandates have nothing to do with achieving equity, but it could possibly be a remedy to a difficult vote,” Manar said.

On May 14, Manar filed an amendment, which proposes some mandate relief, and he says he’s not opposed to taking more suggestions. He’s heard another possible amendment from superintendents across the state that the proposal should include a cap of the amount of money any district can lose.

The bill proposes the funding formula changes be made over a three-year transition period.

While the bill is focused on how the state distributes money, Both Manar and EFAC also recommended that the state increase general state aid to schools. On May 15, the House passed elementary and secondary school appropriations that would give an extra $132 million in general state aid to schools, although that is still less than what the Education Funding Advisory Board has stated is needed to adequately educate Illinois’ kids.

Contact Lauren P. Duncan at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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