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Thursday, June 8, 2017 12:05 am

Central Illinois school district funding can increase

If school funding legislation passed by the General Assembly becomes law, central Illinois school districts could see a significant increase. However, Gov. Bruce Rauner may be reluctant to approve the measure because of a proposed $300 million increase that would go to Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

On May 31, the General Assembly passed a bill to revise the state’s current education funding formula. Sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, the bill would require that students would be allocated aid individually by need rather than by the General State Aid formula of $6,119 per pupil. According to Funding Illinois’ Future, a coalition of more than 200 school districts, school superintendents and community-based organizations, Decatur District 61 and Springfield District 186 are projected to receive an increase of $2.77 million and $1.08 million, respectively. Additionally, Alton District 11, Riverton District 14 and Auburn District 10 would receive increases of $953,238, $567,582 and $474,829.

In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Rauner said that he would not sign the bill. “In its current form, absolutely not,” Rauner said. “The amendment on there really amounts to an unfair-to-Illinois-taxpayers bailout of CPS.” However, Manar said the governor will come around, citing that the bill’s provisions met the recommendations set forth by the education funding reform commission created by Rauner last year. “Lawmakers and the governor have to stop fighting to preserve a broken system. This plan will send money to the poorest districts in the state. I represent some of them,” Manar said in a press release. “This enables us to turn a major corner for the first time in 20 years in Illinois and attack poverty in the public school classroom.” Manar added that the bill, which would cost the state $6.2 billion, has the backing of superintendents, principals, educators, school administrators, parents and school funding advocates.

Jennifer Gill, superintendent of Springfield District 196, released a statement applauding the bill’s passage. “The passage of SB1 marks a long needed change in how education funding is addressed. This version will result in an additional $1 million for District 186,” she said. “We support an evidence-based model for funding and this bill draws upon these principles. We look to a path forward that consistently, adequately and equitably fund our public education system.”

Disproportionate school funding among rich-property districts and poor-property districts has hindered the state for years. A 2016 report by Advance Illinois stated that the highest-poverty schools received $2,500 less per student than the lowest-poverty schools. Moreover, a 2015 study by the Education Trust reported that Illinois has the worst education funding system in the nation, as the state spent 81 cents for low-income students for every dollar spent for non-low-income students.

In 2014, Manar introduced a similar education formula bill. Although the proposal passed in the Senate, it was locked up in a House committee. Opponents said that the bill would decrease funding for school districts in suburban Cook and the collar counties, while aid for school districts in Chicago and downstate would increase. (See “Manar: School funding system ‘completely rotten’” by Alex Camp, April 20, 2017, Illinois Times.)

Despite the obstacles faced in getting a formula bill approved in the General Assembly, Manar is relieved that lawmakers were able to reach a compromise. “I am pleased and incredibly proud that after four years of studying and debating the issue of school funding, lawmakers from all over Illinois were able to agree finally that students in schools all over Illinois are struggling because of an unfair and inadequate funding system,” Manar said. “This is a good bill because it addresses the root of the problem we have: inequity.”

Alex Camp is an editorial intern at Illinois Times. He is pursuing his master’s degree at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact him at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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