The Illinois Senate Education Committee held a hearing May 4 to analyze a school funding reform measure filed by State Sen. Jason Barickman’s (R-Bloomington), as well as a competing measure filed by Democrats.
“This is an important step forward as we try to finally fix our broken school funding system,” said Barickman. “We need feedback from lawmakers and stakeholders if we are ever going to actually pass something into law.”
Senate Bill 1124 would replace the state’s outdated school funding formula with a new evidence-based funding model. The new formula would utilize data and internationally-accepted best practices to ensure money goes to where it is needed most and where it will do the most good.
Sen. Barickman first introduced the concept of the evidence-based model to the General Assembly in 2015. At that time, Democrat leaders wouldn’t allow any action to be taken on the measure.
During late 2016 and early 2017, the Governor’s School Funding Reform Commission, which had been tasked with finding consensus on the topic of school funding reform, worked extensively on the concepts of the evidence-based Model. Since then, a similar evidence-based proposal has been filed in both the Senate and House of Representatives by Democrat sponsors.
The Senate Democrat sponsor of that legislation noted during the hearing that their bill is “95%” the same as Sen. Barickman’s proposal.
“When our education community became very concerned about some of the school funding plans that had been introduced, we worked with them to develop the concept of the evidence-based model into legislation,” said Barickman. “The fact that we now have two evidence-based proposals that are so similar is a major win for this effort.”
The education hearing largely focused on the few differences between the two proposals. The biggest difference is likely how they handle the controversial Chicago block grant, which every year offers just one school district approximately $250 million more than it would receive if it was treated the same as any one of the state’s other 851 districts. Sen. Barickman’s bill eliminates the costly block grant, sending that money through the evidence-based model to be distributed among all of the state’s schools. The Democrat proposal makes the block grant permanent by making it part of a guaranteed minimum funding level for Chicago.
“The Chicago block grant was a political action taken to satisfy powerful interests in one single school district,” said Barickman. “My proposal is based on treating every district the same, offering true parity to our diverse school districts, which I feel is the best approach.”
Also part of Barickman’s approach to offering parity is a companion bill, Senate Bill 1125, which would offer significant mandate relief, as well as various management tools to all school districts. Those management tools are currently granted only to Chicago. The Democrat proposal does not contain a similar proposal to Senate Bill 1125.
“We now have a clearer picture of where the two sides are, and where we like to see this debate move,” said Barickman. “Both sides have put in a lot of work in a good-faith effort to make progress. Now we have to continue to work together to find common ground so that we can finally have one bill that we can pass into law. We can’t call this effort successful until we have legislation signed by the Governor.”