Fixing the state’s broken school funding formula could soon become a reality, due in large part to two pieces of legislation filed by State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington).
"This has taken years of bipartisan negotiations to get us to this point,” said Senator Barickman. “But I believe we finally have put together a good solution for all of our schools that will begin to reduce the inequity and inadequacy that has plagued the current system, and truly addresses questions of parity between schools.”
The legislation is based on the framework advanced by the Governor’s bipartisan Education Funding Reform Commission.
Barickman’s legislation establishes an evidence-based school funding formula that uses 27 different variables to set individual adequacy targets for each school district, based on the real costs of the districts, accepted best practices, and student demographics.
“There are more than 800 school districts in Illinois, from urban schools in Chicago to rural schools downstate, and they have a wide variety of different issues and demographics,” said Senator Barickman. “The evidence-based system represents the first time Illinois will have a formula that actually takes those differences into account, and it will drive dollars to where they are needed most and where they can do the most good.”
That data will be used to establish four tiers to ensure that additional funding goes to those districts that are most in need. Tier 4 would encompass the districts that are financially the strongest, with spending already exceeding their adequacy target, and Tier 1 containing the districts that are struggling the most severely, with spending far below their adequacy target.
In the case of future budget cuts, the four tiered system would also be used to protect the most vulnerable schools. This would end the regressive nature of proration, which is what has happened when school funding was cut in the past. Under proration, the districts with the most need would often see the largest cuts to their budgets. “Eliminating the proration of GSA is a defining characteristic of this legislation,” said Senator Barickman.
All school districts would be protected through a hold harmless provision, which during the first year would be based on the amount the district received in FY17. In year two and thereafter, the hold harmless would be tied to the actual student population to better reflect need, with funding based on the amounts the districts received per student in FY17.
The legislation also repeals the controversial Chicago block grant and ensures equitable funding for charter schools. The plan would also put into place a panel to review the new formula every three years.
“This is an investment model, where lawmakers can see what they are spending money on and understand the outcomes that can be achieved for each school district. We will know the results of political decisions to spend more or less money in our schools, as well as how those budgetary decisions will impact in-class learning,” said Senator Barickman. “Taxpayers will have a better idea of how much funding their school needs, in terms of both state and local revenue.”
A second bill filed by Barickman would offer substantial mandate relief to all school districts, offering them various management tools that are currently granted only to CPS. These include cutting cost-prohibitive bureaucratic red tape involved in third-party contracting, flexibility on scheduling of physical education along with allowing student-athletes to replace P.E. hours with additional classes or study halls, and to allow citizens to discharge certain unfunded mandates from their districts via referendum.
Both bills would be tied to pension reform legislation filed by State Senator Michael Connelly (R-Naperville). As a package, the bills would eliminate the controversial Chicago Block Grant while offering pension parity to Chicago Public Schools (CPS), creating a single, uniform funding system for every school district in Illinois.
“Few people would say that it’s fair to create special deals for certain schools, particularly when they adversely affect other districts,” said Senator Barickman. “And while pension parity has been a much-talked about topic in Springfield, these bills offer real parity across the spectrum. They can finally get us toward an environment where all schools are treated similarly in terms of funding, pension costs and management flexibility.”