Thursday, April 14, 2016

School funding reform update

Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) presented his new school funding reform bill, Senate Bill 231, to the Senate Executive Committee Wednesday afternoon. The bill was approved on a partisan vote of 10-1-6 with all “yes” votes coming from Democrats.

The sponsor has been working on this concept for approximately three years and introduced Senate Bill 16 two years ago. The basic premise of the funding formula change is to drive state funding to those school districts in the most need. This would be done, according to the head of Advance Illinois who testified in support of the bill, by replacing the current General State Aid formula and collapsing it into a single, simpler formula. It uses weighted measures in the foundation level so certain characteristics and students would generate increased funding. Additional weighting, for instance, would be added for low-income students, English language learners, and special education students.

The committee chairman announced at the beginning of the hearing that there were 480 people or organizations that had submitted a witness slip in support of SB 231 while 40 witness slips had been received from those in opposition.

Senator Manar listed the major revisions in the bill from the last version he presented on the school funding issue as: adding a hold harmless provision that will be phased out over four years; adding an adequacy grant to reduce the funding gap between school districts; making adjustments to the PTELL grant to contain these costs but not harm school districts; eliminating the block grant for Chicago Public Schools (CPS); and providing $200 million to cover CPS teachers' normal pension costs for “pension parity.”

When questioned by members of the committee whether there was a printout so members could see how their school districts fared under the plan, the sponsor answered that he has requested one from the Illinois State Board of Education but that he has not received it as yet.

The sponsor estimated that the full cost of implementing the new formula would be $400 million, plus the additional $200 million for CPS pensions.

The fate of the bill is unknown, especially in the House of Representatives. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) has been relatively uninvolved in the issue over the past two years, but this spring he has instituted a school funding task force and has introduced a Constitutional Amendment to strengthen the education provisions.