School Funding Reform Commission announces consensus on new school funding formula framework

State aid to schools is one of the largest appropriations of Illinois’ state budget. The complex formula, which is set forth in Illinois statute and administered by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), includes a wide variety of tweaks and variables. Money that is not provided by federal or State aid must be brought in from property tax levies and concerns about the Illinois school funding formula are increasingly intertwined with concerns about Illinois property taxes and tax rates.

In July 2016, Governor Rauner and the four legislative leaders created the bipartisan, bicameral Illinois School Funding Reform Commission. The 25 members of the Commission were asked to revamp Illinois’ education funding formula to provide a more equitable and adequately funded system for all students. The Commission met for a final time on Wednesday, February 1 to finalize a report to submit to the Governor and General Assembly. The final report provides a framework on how to move forward in establishing an equitable school funding formula. It is the hope of the Commission that the General Assembly and the Governor’s Office can work together to put this framework into legislation to create a new, more equitable and adequate funding system for FY18.

The State of Illinois currently funds 26% of the total cost of Illinois primary and secondary education. It is the Commission’s hope that in the future, the State can be the primary funding source of education. In order to get to that level of funding, the Commission’s framework points to individual “adequacy targets” for each district based on the district’s individual needs, including student enrollment, teacher salaries, low-income students, and English language learners among other factors. This target will help districts and local residents understand how much a school must spend to provide an adequate and equitable education to each student. In addition, the Commission also agreed that any new school funding formula must provide transparency when it comes to local dollars being spent on education in hopes of lessening the State’s reliance on property taxes to fund education.

In its report, the Reform Commission announced that they have reached a consensus on what a new school funding formula framework would look like. The new framework is built upon the idea of “adequacy targets” to be met by schools and school districts; a school district’s eligibility for aid will be partly tied to evidence that one or more of their schools have fallen short of adequacy targets and that, at the same time, the school is making progress toward meeting these targets. The goal of this new paradigm is to concentrate aid on vulnerable students while not, at the same time, rewarding schools and school districts that sit on their hands and maintain a perpetual state of poor performance and outcomes.

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