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Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017 12:09 am

Coalition urges school funding formula reform

ILLUSTRATION BY SHARON OKADA/TNS

 

On Feb. 3 the Funding Illinois’ Future coalition, an advocacy organization for a new school funding formula, urged lawmakers in a press release to pass bipartisan legislation to provide “adequate and equal” school funding.

The coalition called for legislation that “recognizes individual student needs, differences in local resources, (and) closes funding gaps in five years and keeps them closed.”

This came as a response to the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission report, which aims to fix the state’s current gap between poor and rich school districts by reforming the school funding formula, which currently relies heavily on property taxes. The coalition praised the commission for working toward a new school funding formula.

The commission came up with recommendations to increase funding for poverty-level school districts, and to use enrollment in place of average daily attendance in the General State Aid formula. The commission did not come up with legislation to be introduced in the General Assembly.

The commission, which is made up of 25 members, has been working to reform the school funding formula since August of last year. Other recommendations by the commission include more local control, mandate relief for school districts, spending transparency and maintaining a hold-harmless clause, which prevents state funding for richer school districts from being diminished when more goes to poorer districts.

According to the commission’s report, the state would need to provide an average additional $3.5 billion in the next 10 years to ensure adequate funding for school districts. The Funding Illinois’ Future coalition, is composed of over 200 school districts, superintendents, and community organizations.

Jennifer Gill, Springfield School District 186 superintendent and coalition member, said it is important to change the school funding formula to provide proper education. “We urge legislators to come together to fix the educational funding formula so that we can end uncertainty in state funding,” she said in an interview.

Roy Williams Jr., co-chair of the Education Task Force of Springfield’s Faith Coalition for the Common Good, said legislators must act. “Our students are being left behind while our state legislators continue to study the issue,” he said.

The Education Funding Advisory Board recommends the amount of funding school districts should receive by establishing a foundation level, which is the amount of money a school district needs to educate one child. The current funding formula is calculated using the foundation level, the available local resources per student and the average daily student attendance. The available local resources portion of the formula relies on property taxes. Last year, the EFAB recommended a foundation level of $8,899 per pupil. However, Illinois school districts have not been fully funded since fiscal year 2010, causing the state aid formula to be prorated, with the foundation level remaining stagnant at $6,199. This was a total of $2,780 per pupil short last year from the EFAB’s recommended amount. The lack of funding has been a result of the state’s budget deficit.

Gill said Springfield School District 186 made a $6 million cut in spring 2014, but has received full General State Aid funding since then. The Springfield school district has been fully funded, but this is under the current $6,119 foundation level, not the EFAB’s recommended amount.

“We have lived within our means and maintained a balanced budget while gradually increasing our fund balance to strengthen our fiscal stability,” she said. “However, state categorical payments owed to us, which have traditionally lagged, now stand at $8 million for this fiscal year.”

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, a member of the commission, said in a Feb. 1 press release that he hopes the commission can recommend legislation to reform school funding this spring. The Senate previously passed two bills to address school funding, but none was enacted into law.

As part of the “grand bargaining” package, the Senate has reserved the first piece of legislation for school funding reform, but it would not go into effect unless 12 other bills are enacted.

Contact Debby Hernandez at editintern@illinoistimes.com.

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