SPRINGFIELD — A downstate legislator wants to make the state’s school funding formula need-based, but he and allies are facing challenges including a lack of visible Republican support and desire for more than $500 million more for schools in a cash-strapped budget year.
State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, this week rolled out changes to Senate Bill 1, or the School Funding Reform Act of 2015.
The bill is similar to the legislation that made it out of the Senate in 2014 but died in the House. Manar said work since then has addressed many concerns, including those of some opponents.
Manar said today’s formula distributes fewer than 44 cents of every dollar on the basis of a school district’s need. Manar and allies say that is unfair to the districts that most need the money.
Illinois’ school funding method takes poverty levels into account but does not truly address disparities in local property tax strength or weakness. Given local funding is property tax-based, poor districts suffer.
The bill’s backers seek a more inclusive formula they say would distribute about 92 cents of each dollar based on district need.
The sponsors say improvements to their bill include a method of comparing regional costs, a more accurate way of measuring poverty and additional funding to districts with higher-than-average rates of students with special education needs.
The breakdown of how individual districts would do under the plan is being prepared by the State Board of Education and should be ready soon, Manar said.
But Manar said educators, school districts and experts throughout the state kept telling his team more money, an estimated $500 million, would be needed to make the plan work as it should.
“There’s an obvious need to make school funding more fair and transparent, but there’s also an undeniable need to increase funding as a whole,” Manar said. “These updates are grounded in the basic principle that we should give help where it is needed.”
“This is the civil rights issue of our time,” said state Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago. “Hard work, not ZIP code, should determine a child’s chance to succeed.”
Finding $500 million more for education may be tough this year. Gov. Bruce Rauner is expected to seek steep cuts to the debt-ridden state’s annual budget. Rauner, though, has continued to hold out education as a top priority.
But Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, told a Chicago radio station Tuesday afternoon, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” when it comes to a half-billion new dollars being flowed to education, although he added he was citing only “gut feeling.”
State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, a former teacher, said he was interested in learning more about the revisions to the Manar plan, but he wants to see a district-by-district breakdown of funding before he can get behind it.
Luechtefeld, who works frequently on education issues, seemed to hold out some hope of more education dollars in the coming budget year.
“The situation is a little different this year because Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration will obviously have a great deal of input on this topic and he has said he’s committed to improving K – 12 education,” he said in a news release.
Manar called his talks with the Rauner administration so far “open, ongoing and positive.”
Mark Fitton is a reporter for the Illinois News Network.