Manar: School funding system “completely rotten”
Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, is one of the state’s foremost experts on school funding reform. “We have a system that is completely rotten because the effect of the law makes us the least equitable system of public school finance in the country,” Manar said in an interview.
A 2015 report by Education Trust found that Illinois has the largest school funding gap in the country, as the highest poverty school districts receive nearly 20 percent less funding than the lowest poverty school districts.
A bill sponsored by Manar requires that students would be allotted aid individually by need instead of the current formula of $6,119 per student. “This law that we currently have in the school code is simply the direction to spend billions of dollars, which leads to incredible inequity among our citizens,” he said. In 2014 Manar introduced a similar bill which passed in the Senate, yet stalled in the House. Critics argued that the bill decreased funding for school districts in suburban Cook and the collar counties, while aid for school districts in Chicago and downstate increased.
Manar said that the state’s unequal school spending is attributed to an overreliance on property taxes. Local resources through property taxes account for two-thirds of revenue for school districts in Illinois. Meanwhile, state resources fund roughly 25 percent of districts. “There are other states that heavily rely on property taxes like Illinois, but they still use their state money much more progressively, which means they have greater equity in their districts,” Manar said.
Manar’s interest in funding reform began when he was a student at Southern Illinois University. “I started this process for school funding reform around 1996, when I was in college,” Manar said. “My state senator at the time was Vince DeMuzio from the 49th district. When Gov. Jim Edgar called a joint session regarding education funding, DeMuzio called me and asked if I would like to attend the session.”
Manar said Edgar’s speech reminded him of his own struggle to fund his education. “What Edgar said kind of put it into context for me personally, because I graduated from a small school and I had to work in the summer to pay for college,” Manar remembered. “That was the first seed planted in my mind towards the issue.”
Manar was later asked if he supported school district consolidation as a way to save the state money and resources. “My position is simply that the state should help incentivize this process but it should be a local process,” he said. “The 59 members of the Senate and the 118 members of the House should not be in charge of dicing up the state into school districts. It’s just a bad idea.”
According to an April 2016 report by the Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois had 2,399 students per school district, the fifth-lowest among states with school populations over one million. “One reason why we have greater inequity than other states is that we have too many units of government to measure, which leads to more school districts,” Manar said. The study says that by consolidating school districts, Illinois could save $130 million to $170 million annually, and $3 billion to $4 billion in pension costs over the next 30 years. “Statistically speaking, if you have less units to measure, you’ll have more aid for each district,” he said.
Alex Camp is an editorial intern at Illinois Times. He is pursuing his master’s degree at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.