School Funding Testimony Taken At Capitol

Nov 21, 2014

State Senator Andy Manar speaks to supporters of his school funding bill at a rally in the capitol prior to the committee hearing.
Credit Dusty Rhodes

The House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education held a lengthy hearing this week on a bill that would drastically change the way Illinois distributes state education funds. Senate Bill 16, sponsored by Senator Andy Manar of Macoupin County, would send more money to schools where property values are low, while decreasing the amount sent to schools in wealthier Chicago suburbs. 

Illinois ranks last among all 50 states for funding public education. And for the past few years, the state has failed to pony up the full amount pledged to schools, paying just 89 percent of the total promised. Now the legislature is considering changing the formula, and realizing that some wealthier schools will lose money, while poorer schools will gain. Nicole Bazer, an attorney for the State Board of Education, told lawmakers that there was no way to avoid that fact. 

"Many have charged that Senate Bill 16 creates winners and losers. Please make no mistake: We have districts that are losing right now," she said.

Robin Steans, executive director of the advocacy group Advance Illinois, testified that the current formula has produced unfortunate results.

"It is absolutely not a surprise, completely predictable, that we have the worst achievement gaps by income than any state in the union," she said. "And that that has been true for over 15 years."

Some speakers asked the committee to focus on "adequacy" -- increasing the level of funding across the board. Others suggested compromises such as relieving schools of unfunded mandates, tweaking the funding formula to account for higher cost of living in some regions of the state, and changing the definition of low-income students.  

The bill is not scheduled to be voted on anytime soon.