New education funding legislation would advance true parity for schools

After years of bipartisan negotiations, two legislative proposals have been advanced to reduce the inequity and inadequacy that has plagued the states more than 800 school districts, and truly address questions of school funding parity.

The legislation is based on the framework advanced by the Governors bipartisan Education Funding Reform Commission, and establishes an evidence-based school funding formula.

The evidence-based system establishes a formula that would take into account the vast and unique differences that exist between the states many districts—ranging from urban Chicago schools to rural downstate and suburban districts. Notably, the evidence-based system drives dollars to where they are most needed and where the additional resources can do the most good.

The evidence-based funding model takes into account 27 different variables in order to set individual adequacy targets for each school district that are based on the districts real costs, accepted best practices, and student demographics.

That data will be used to establish four funding tiers, which would ensure that additional funding goes to the states neediest districts. Tier 4 would encompass the districts that are financially the strongest, with spending already exceeding their adequacy target. Tier 1 would include struggling school districts that are spending far below their adequacy target.

The four-tiered system would also be used to protect the most vulnerable schools, ending the regressive nature of proration. Proration is the result of the states past practice of cutting school funding. Under proration, the districts with the most need often saw the most significant budget cuts.

Additionally, all school districts would be protected through a hold-harmless provision, which during the first year would be based on the amount the district received during the 2016-2017 school year. In the second year and each year thereafter, the hold-harmless would be tied to the schools actual student population to better reflect need, and funding would be based on the amount a district received per student in FY2017.

The legislation also repeals the controversial Chicago block grant and ensures equitable funding for charter schools.

In order to ensure consistent review of the states school funding, the legislation establishes a panel to review the new formula every three years. This would allow lawmakers to not only see how funding is being allocated, but better understand the outcomes that can be achieved for each school district. There will be clear data on the results of decisions to spend more or less money in Illinois schools, and information on how those budgetary decisions will impact in-class learning. Additionally, taxpayers will have a better idea of how much funding their schools need, in terms of both state and local revenues.

An accompanying legislative measure would provide substantial mandate relief to all school districts, establishing statewide various management tools that are currently granted only to Chicago Public Schools. These tools include cutting cost-prohibitive bureaucratic red tape involved in third-party contracting; flexibility on scheduling of physical education, and allowing student-athletes to replace P.E. hours with additional classes or study halls; and permitting citizens to discharge certain unfunded mandates from their districts via referendum.

As a package, the bills eliminate the controversial Chicago Block Grant while offering pension parity to Chicago Public Schools, creating a single, uniform funding system for every school district in Illinois. Both education reform measures would be tied to pension reform legislation (SB 2172/SB 2173) that has been filed in the Senate.

Jil Tracy

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