Education Desk: ISBE Indicates Support For School Funding Reform

Feb 11, 2016

Under the current school funding formula, school districts in areas with high property values are able to spend up to $30,000 per pupil per year, while districts in areas with low property values have about $7,000 per pupil per year.

Illinois' school funding formula relies heavily on property taxes, resulting in deep disparities in districts’ levels of spending. When the Illinois State Board of Education met Wednesday, members talked about a potential change to make the funding formula more equitable. 

Staff members told the board that a draft proposal to overhaul the school funding formula is currently being reviewed. ISBE traditionally avoids taking a position on un-filed legislation, but Superintendent Tony Smith told members that their decision last month to shift $300 million to the neediest school districts showed that they were open to change.

“Obviously, you collectively made a decision at the meeting in January that here’s how we could distribute funds within the way the law is now, recognizing that the funding formula is fundamentally flawed,” Smith said. "So we’ve been, as spokespeople for you, saying that the board needs and wants something to change."

Employees of the Illinois State Board of Education are analyzing a legislative proposal to transform the state’s school funding formula, but Smith acknowledged that changing it would be difficult.

"I mean, there’s some significant issues in the state about what you can touch and what you can’t, and so I think it will be interesting to see how that bill does get considered,” Smith said, "because it’s also very political, as we know.”

The state’s school funding formula has remained unchanged since 1997. Past attempts to change it have resulted in wealthier districts complaining that they shouldn’t have to lose funds to help other schools.