Friday, May 5, 2017

Alliance Legislative Report 100-17


Serious discussions on a state budget and school funding formula changes were prevalent this week in the Capitol – some in public and some in private. With the Senate in session, most of the activity was in that chamber. The House of Representatives was not in session this week.

Leadership and budget negotiators were reportedly meeting privately this week to try to find some agreement on a statewide budget. Budget cuts and new revenues must be agreed upon. But these talks were among members of the Senate so, at some point, the governor and the Speaker of the House will weigh in. The issues of pension reform and property tax freezes are likely to re-emerge before any final agreement is reached.

The Senate Education Committee met Thursday night to discuss possible changes to the school funding formula. No votes were taken, but the panel discussed SB 1 (Manar, D-Bunker Hill), SB 1124 (Barickman, R-Bloomington), and SB 1125 (Barickman). SB 1, originally part of the “grand bargain” budget bill package, contains changes designed to direct more state school funding to those districts in most need and is rooted in the concept of evidence-based funding model (EBM) supported by Vision 20/20. The sponsor has offered an amendment that would decouple the bill from the budget package so it can be approved on its own merits and not be tied to the other bills in the proposed compromise.

SB 1124 is also based on the evidence-based model. SB 1 and SB 1124 are not identical bills, and both differ in some respects to the original EBM legislation. They both assign tiers of funding determined by how close school districts are to their adequacy targets, but they differ in how they calculate and implement poverty concentrations. How Chicago Public Schools are treated by the formulas will continue to be a sticking point in the push for a new school funding formula.

SB 1125 contains an attempt to provide relief to school districts for unfunded and underfunded mandates, including drivers’ education, physical education, and third party contracting. Though there are concerns about the drafting of the provisions by the Alliance, the concept of mandate relief is important in these discussions.

Among those who offered testimony before the committee were a number of school superintendents, the heads of several education reform groups, and the directors of several education advocacy organizations – including Dr. Michael Jacoby of Illinois ASBO.

The clock is ticking on reaching agreement on a budget or funding reform measure as the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn at the end of the month. And as one committee witness noted last night, if there is no agreement on a balanced budget with new revenues, the school aid distribution method will not really matter.

Click here to read the entire Alliance Legislative Report 100-17.