Illinois School funding formula

One of the few issues uniting Illinois lawmakers from both parties is the desire to revamp the way our state funds schools. That's because the current system has made Illinois schools the most inequitable in the country. A group of 20 lawmakers recently spent six months drafting a framework for a different plan. It would ensure that no school loses money, and all additional funds would be distributed through a new evidence-based model. A trio of commission members — two Democrats and a Republican — united behind one version of this plan. But last week, Republican Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington filed a significantly different version. He spoke with our education reporter, Dusty Rhodes, who began by asking him about how he would calculate the hold-harmless provision.

 

Chalkboard with mathmatic formulas
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

School funding is one of the key issues in the General Assembly’s budget debate. Everyone agrees the current funding formula needs to change, but there’s less agreement on how to fix it. A bipartisan effort is poised for a floor vote in the House, but in the Senate, compromise appears to have fallen apart.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Illinois lawmakers from both political parties seem to be gathering behind a new school funding plan called the "evidence-based model." Today, Jason Barickman, a Republican from Bloomington, announced that he plans to file his own version in the Senate.

Credit Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Lawmakers have been trying to change the way Illinois funds schools for years now, with no luck. But a new plan called the Evidence Based Model seems to be gaining momentum.

Art Ryan, superintendent of Cahokia schools, addresses media with other superintendents who are plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Gov. Bruce Rauner and the State Board of Education.
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

A Chicago law firm representing a group of mostly rural school superintendents sued the state of Illinois today. They're asking Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state board of education to come up with a funding formula that would help schools meet the state's learning standards.

The 17 superintendents say that — between Illinois' notoriously inequitable funding formula and years of reduced state spending — this lawsuit is their last resort.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Lawmakers have been working on a new school funding model for the past few years, but some school districts have gotten impatient and decided to take the issue to court. So far, 16 school boards have voted to join the lawsuit, which will be filed by Chicago labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan.

Last week, I interviewed two of the superintendents involved in the lawsuit.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The Grand Bargain is a package of interlocking legislation designed to break the budget impasse. How important is school funding to that deal? Important enough that leaders titled it Senate Bill One. Under the plan filed by Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), the state would freeze funding at current levels. Any additional dollars would be distributed based on each district’s demographics and unique needs, channeling the bulk of the money toward low-income districts.

A globe in a classroom with the Illinois flag in the background.
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

ALLEN CHASTAIN

In the November elections, Christian County went solidly for Donald Trump. It's not the kind of environment where taxes for public services are popular. Nevertheless, the Taylorville School District is asking voters to raise their own property taxes, and the district has put everything on the line.

The district hasn’t had a tax increase in 38 years, and is now operating with a $1.3 million annual deficit. If the referendum fails, the district will eliminate all extracurricular activities and all elective classes.

Amanda Vinicky / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner prides himself on robust funding for elementary and secondary education, and in yesterday's budget address, he promised a $213 million increase for k-12 schools. But State Sen. Andy Manar says only a fraction of that money will reach Illinois’ poorest school districts.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner's efforts to equalize school funding in Illinois have gotten a lot of publicity lately, since the bipartisan commission he established concluded by issuing a report earlier this month. But another group of lawmakers was simultaneously tackling the same issue. It was lead by State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood). What conclusion did that group come to?

State Rep. Will Davis filed a school funding reform package last week that promises to makes school funding in Illinois more equitable. How much will it cost? How much will each school district gain or lose? Is Davis even going to call the bill for a committee hearing? All good questions with no firm answers.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Last week, the School Funding Reform Commission wrapped up six months of work trying to fix the state's notoriously inequitable support structure for public schools by producing a report calling for new dollars to go first to school districts that have been historically underfunded. However, the commission stopped short of proposing its own legislation. Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill who has already proposed three school funding reform packages, is calling on Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration to come up with a piece of legislation that would carry out the concepts endorsed in the commission's report.

Beth Purvis headshot
Courtesy of Beth Purvis

This is the second part of our conversation with Beth Purvis, Illinois Secretary of Education. She led a 25-member commission over six months of meetings, trying to cure the state’s notoriously inequitable school funding structure. The commission concluded its work last week by issuing a report, but stopped short of crafting actual legislation. Purvis rarely talks to the media, but on the day the commission adjourned, she spoke for about half an hour with NPR Illinois.

Beth Purvis made her first appearance as Secretary of Education at a School Management Alliance/Vision 2020 event.
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Beth Purvis serves as Gov. Bruce Rauner's Secretary of Education, and she headed the 25-member commission he tasked with finding a way to make Illinois' school funding more equitable. After six months of meetings, the bipartisan panel adjourned yesterday releasing a report meant to guide lawmakers toward drafting a reform measure. Shortly after that final meeting, Purvis talked to me about the novel test she used with the commission, and why the panel stopped short of endorsing a specific plan.

Last summer, Governor Bruce Rauner tasked 20 lawmakers and a handful of educators with the job of changing the way Illinois funds public schools. That bipartisan commission produced a “framework” today, but no actual legislation.

That is despite the group’s continual focus on a plan favored by Rauner.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

For the past 20 years, school funding in Illinois has relied heavily on property taxes, which means schools near prime commercial or residential areas thrive, while others struggle to get by. Since August, a bi-partisan, bi-cameral group of lawmakers has been meeting regularly to try to come up with a better way to fund public schools.

Courtesy of Sen. Karen McConnaughay

On Wednesday, state senators filed a package of bills designed to break the partisan logjam that's led to the state going more than 18 months without a budget. The first of those bills deals with changing the school funding formula, and the commission charged with accomplishing that task appears headed toward a compromise.

Video monitors of commission meeting
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

More than any other state in the country, Illinois relies on property taxes to fund public schools. As a result, districts in prosperous areas can spend a lot more per student than districts in low-income or rural areas. A group of lawmakers charged with revamping this scheme has been meeting since summer, facing a deadline of February first. But the group isn’t moving fast enough for State Senator Andy Manar. He’s the leading Democrat on the commission. He’s also considering running for governor.

Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the formation of a 25-member commission, and gave them six months to rewrite the state’s school funding formula. State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) is one of 20 lawmakers on the bipartisan, bicameral commission. We asked him for an update on the commission's progress.

Brent Clark, Illinois Association of School Administrators
Courtesy of IASA

When it comes to equity in school funding, Illinois ranks last among all 50 states. So over the summer, various groups of lawmakers have been meeting with stakeholders, trying to come up with a plan that will send state dollars to the school districts that genuinely need help. Brent Clark has been attending all those meetings.

When it comes to school funding, Illinois has been ranked as the worst in the country because our system is so inequitable. Basically that means some schools offer a lot of advanced placement courses and have fancy science labs and swimming pools, while other schools can’t afford new math books and have to cut their band programs. The fight over how to fix this has gone on for years.

In July, Gov. Bruce Rauner announced that he was creating a bipartisan commission to change the way Illinois funds public schools. That commission held its third meeting yesterday. But there’s another commission tackling the same topic, and its founder claims her group is getting more work done.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

In July, Gov. Bruce Rauner established a bipartisan commission to find a way to fix the state's method of funding schools. Beth Purvis is the governor's Secretary of Education and she chairs this new group. When she opened the first meeting with scores of lawmakers and stakeholders in both Chicago and Springfield, Purvis spoke bluntly by reminding participants why Illinois needs a new plan.

“We are ranked 50th, or received an F, by almost everyone who ranked us in terms of the difference between what we spend on our students who live in our, what we consider our wealthiest districts, and those who are in our poorest," she said.

Bruce Rauner
brucerauner.com

When Gov. Bruce Rauner announced today a new legislative commission to fix Illinois’ school funding formula, the first question from reporters attending the press conference was: Why should we get excited about yet another task force? Groups of lawmakers have been trying to change the state’s notoriously inequitable system for at least the past 10 years. The difference this time, Rauner said, is that the situation has become critical.

Courtesy of Stand for Children Illinois

A big chunk of Illinois school funding is distributed through a complicated formula known as the "poverty grant." We asked a numbers interpreter to untangle it for us.

This past year has been rough, thanks to not having a state budget. But at least Illinois has funded schools.  For the upcoming fiscal year, that's not guaranteed.

 

You might think all we have to do is turn the money faucet back on. But it’s not that easy.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The Illinois legislature adjourned last night with no budget for education -- at any level.

John Cullerton
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

As the clock ticks down on the General Assembly, lawmakers are struggling to avoid the debacle of public schools not opening in the fall. But they’re having a tough time coming up with a school funding formula that pleases both parties.

A new plan to fund public schools was filed yesterday. Its goal is to ensure that all school districts have 90 percent of the resources needed to provide a no-frills, meat-and-potatoes "adequate" education. It would also have the state pay teacher pensions in the Chicago Public School District (the state already pays pensions in all other districts).

Illinois’ school funding formula relies heavily on property taxes.

 

That leaves districts with low land values to make do with about six thousand dollars per student each year, while districts with thriving businesses can spend up to five times that amount.

 

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that Illinois needs to change the formula, but they get caught on the question of how.

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