Tuesday, May 30, 2017 02:03 pm
Senate approves new school funding bill
The Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act was approved in the Illinois Senate on May 17 and awaits action in the House. A 35 to 18 vote victory came following a rally in which advocates asked for an equitable school funding formula.
Sponsor of SB1, Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said the new distribution model reduces inequality by focusing on a school districts’ needs.
“I understand that this bill is complicated,” he said during the Senate debate. “This bill measures the true needs of every school district…. The districts that have the furthest distance to go, they get the money first, moving forward.”
Under the bill, funding would be granted based on districts’ financial needs through an evidence-based funding formula beginning in 2017-2018 school year. It ensures districts that need more assistance get the most help.
The bill consists of 27 components including calculations concerning local capacity, a base funding minimum, and a percent of adequacy and final resources.
Manar said the bill “holds harmless” school districts for FY 17 funding levels, meaning all districts would get at least the same level of funding next year that they received during the current fiscal year. He said it is necessary to fix the current unequitable system.
Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, questioned Manar’s intentions in calling for a Senate vote on SB1, stating that school funding is an issue that lacks agreement between both parties.
“This is another example of Democrats walking away from the negotiation to run a partisan bill and no longer work with the very Republicans they say they want to work with,” Barickman said.
Manar said the bill is consistent with suggestions from the governor’s school funding commission and with those made by Senate Republican members.
“We could kick around the minutiae in the bill and I could sit and wait for an agreement to happen. But at some point and time…I think it’s time to call it for a vote,” Manar replied.
Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said the Chicago block grant is incorporated in SB1 and should be eliminated to keep school funding equal.
“We shouldn’t send a disproportionate amount of money to one school district which takes from other school districts,” Rezin said.
Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, agreed adding that Chicago would continue to get a larger portion of funding than other districts under the bill.
“You know the city is going to be well. For those who don’t represent the city of Chicago, the question is going to be how well your district will do,” Righter said.
Sen. Manar said the Chicago block grant is eliminated for the categorical programs that are incorporated in the new formula.
Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, stated that while the term “winners and losers” has been previously used when referring to school funding, the new model has no losers.
“I truly feel the Republican side of the aisle wants the Chicago children to lose,” Lightford said. “We are not going to leave the kids in the city of Chicago high and dry. We are going to educate them equally as we educate every other child in this state.”
Lightford responded to Republicans who questioned the fairness of the new formula under SB1.
“If your needs aren’t as great as your neighbor’s needs, then you don’t get as much as your neighbor,” she said. “Superintendents already get it. There is no opposition but you.”
Dr. David Lett, superintendent at Pana Community Unit School District 8, said he worked beside Sen. Manar four years ago for equitable school funding under SB 16.
“Forrest Claypool (the CEO of Chicago public schools) indicated we share a common bond,” Lett said in an interview. “Their children of color have high concentrations of poverty. We have high concentrations of poverty students in our rural district.”
Greggory Fuerstenau, superintendent at Taylorville school district, said a referendum to increase property taxes was approved in April to maintain the district’s educational programs.
“We can’t tax ourselves to a whole budget, it’s just not possible. Our local people made the tough choice to raise their own taxes to support their schools,” Fuerstenau said.
Shonda Ronen, a first grade teacher from Beckemeyer Elementary School in Hillsboro, said the school lacks proper resources such as books, technology, transportation and teacher aids.
“Our students have to share their textbooks,” Ronen said. “We need to fix the formula now.”
Contact Debby Hernandez at email@example.com.