Funding plan ‘harmless,’ but expensive
School formula reform faces uphill battle despite passing House and Senate
The sounds of a rehearsing gospel choir, complete with organ accompaniment, bled through the walls of Union Baptist Church during a sparsely attended town hall meeting there July 13. The meeting was organized by the Faith Coalition for the Common Good to address school funding as outlined in Senate Bill 1 (SB1). The soulful ambient sounds provided a fitting underscore to the dogged, almost religious, dedication that led the bill to be passed by a bipartisan majority in both the Illinois House and Senate.
So what does SB1 have that all the previous bills lacked? According to Brent Clark, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators, and the other speakers on hand for the town hall, with SB1, the amount of state aid for all districts would be “held harmless” through the Base Funding Minimum – meaning that if the bill becomes law, currently well-off school districts would not be forced to give up any of their current funding in order to help out less fortunate districts. “We needed 60 votes to get it through the House and we got exactly 60,” said Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, who was in attendance at the event, estimating that supporters would have gotten 45 votes total without the “hold harmless” part.
“If you talk to superintendents from wealthier districts they tell you they are paying massive property taxes and are getting an incredible education for their kids: they’re paying for that and they want that,” said Clark. “One superintendent told me his district could run for eight years without any more state funds. Think about that. How long would 186 last?” The bill assures those wealthier districts that they all get to keep what they have.
Under the bill, $350 million in new dollars would be distributed to districts according to four tiers, with tier one districts determined as being the furthest from “adequacy goals,” and tier four districts being closest to those goals. When new dollars are added, tier 1 districts would receive the first 50 percent, with the next 49 percent to be split between tier 1 and tier 2 and the final one percent divided between tiers three and four, according to information provided by fundingilfuture.org.
“One thing we in higher education always took for granted was that all of our students had pretty much the same kind of support from the state in their public education backgrounds,” said Maurine Magliocco, retired professor of English at Western Illinois University who is education task force chair for the Faith Coalition, “but I have since learned that this was not the case.” Magliocco credits Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, with opening her eyes to the large gaps between districts throughout the state after seeing a chart he had hanging in his office. “The inequity is appalling,” she said. “Some districts are able to pay $8,000 or $9,000 per student, others, $30,000. Some school districts have so much money that they could have Astroturf, planetariums, all kinds of computer labs, chemistry labs, Olympic-size swimming pools – while other districts were just falling apart, puddles everywhere, old, out of date textbooks. It is just incredible.”
Gov. Bruce Rauner has said he intends to veto SB1 in spite of its bipartisan support, echoing his recent actions regarding the state budget, labeling it a “bailout” for Chicago Public Schools. Once the legislation gets to his desk, Clark explained, the governor has a few options: he could immediately sign it; he could veto it within seconds as he did with the budget bill earlier this month; or he could wait 60 days and then take action, a timeframe which would extend beyond the beginning of the fall 2017 school year. “If he does what he and his secretary of education say he is going to do, he’ll veto the bill,” said Clark, “and if he does that the House and Senate can override it.”
A successful override vote in the state Senate is not likely to be a challenge. But an override in the House would mean having to round up 71 legislators – a potentially daunting task. “We have 60 votes and need 71 – and some of the representatives in Sangamon County are voting no,” said Scherer. “They apparently don’t want our school district to get over $1 million.” Scherer urged all present to find out how their representative voted on the bill by visiting ilga.gov, entering bill number SB1, and clicking the “vote” button for voting records. “I think it is of utmost importance that every person in Sangamon County knows how their representative votes,” she said. “There might be a reason I’m the only legislator here.”
Indeed, Scherer was alone among area state representatives in supporting SB1, with Tim Butler (87th District), Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (99th District) and Avery Bourne (95th District) all voting no on the bill. Sen. Andy Manar (48th Senate District) voted yes for the bill and William “Sam” McCann (50th Senate District) was marked “present.”
Scott Faingold can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.