Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Districts face learning curve
with new funding formula

With the implementation of a new method to distribute state money to Illinois schools, a natural learning curve is inevitable for all those involved. To assist districts with understanding the Evidence-Based Funding Model, the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA) recently held three hearings at locations throughout the state.

Among the topics discussed were the evidence-based elements, adequacy targets and local capacity targets, tiered distribution system, and the base funding minimum. Some of the lesser-known parts of the new funding statute include Chicago Public Schools pension changes, the property tax relief fund, the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) task force, mandate relief, and local property tax reduction via petition referendum.

IASA’s Executive Director Brent Clark was joined by several school officials who have been heavily involved in crafting the Evidence-Based Funding Model over the past three years. Speakers included Gary Tipsord, LeRoy CUSD 2 superintendent; Michael Jacoby, Illinois Association of School Business Officials executive director; Ralph Martire, River Forest SD 90 board president and Center for Tax and Budget Accountability executive director; and Ben Boer, Advance Illinois deputy director.

Key to the new formula are the 26 elements that determine how much each district receives based on an assigned calculation for a number of variables. Those variables include types of teachers, certain support staff, and professional development costs. 

Also included are various student related variables-from English Language Learners to special education to computer technology. All are assigned a value, meaning the district gets an allocated amount of money for each student that fits into the various categories.

The adequacy target is factored by enrollment and student population, while also accounting for demographic based resources that are necessary to create high quality education. What this means is dollars will follow the needs of student learners, directing resources to those most in need.

The combination of the elements and the targets contained within the new law will give districts increased flexibility by showing what each school needs to provide and what it doesn’t. This allows funding to be directed to areas of greater need that serve the district's unique student demographics.

“The (funding) model is a mechanism to determine the amount and how to distribute dollars to schools,” Tipsord said at the hearing held Oct. 18 in Bloomington. “This is authentic, genuine funding reform. This is driving dollars specifically for the purpose of classroom instruction.”
The other hearings were held Oct. 11 in Lisle, and Oct. 19 in Ina.

One of the most important aspects of the new law is that no districts will lose money within the formula. The base funding minimum as stipulated within the formula ensures that districts will not go below the dollar amount they currently receive.

Going forward, the new money allocated to formula will be distributed to districts most in need. A total of $350 million allocated for the 2017-2018 school year will be assigned on a four-tier distribution method.

The bottom two tiers will be prioritized in terms of receiving the newly allocated state funds. The intention of each tier is to work toward closing gaps within the expected adequacy target by meeting certain ceilings and then moving up to the next tier. It is estimated that the state will need to put in around $5 billion to get every district to the tier 3 level. This could take from 10 to 15 years for the lowest-tier districts.

Each school district is treated individually, with an Adequacy Target based on the needs of its student body. The greater the student need, the higher the Adequacy Target. New dollars go to the neediest districts first — those furthest from their Adequacy Target. This is designed to close the gaps in funding that existed in the previous school funding system.

The next step in the process for districts will be ensuring accurate data is relayed to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). That data includes detailed enrollment data to account for subsets of student populations, such as: special education pre-Kindergarten students; students from deactivated/non-operating districts; students served at state-authorized charter schools; and students at state-funded residential schools. Data requirements include the collection of two prior years of enrollment in addition to the current one year of enrollment for the calculation of a three-year average. The greater of either the current year or the three-year average for each district’s Average Student Enrollment (ASE) is used in Evidence-Based Funding calculations.

It is imperative that the data is accurate and verified, because it will serve as the basis for the funding level going forward, according to ISBE officials.

ISBE recently posted an instructional guide online for the Evidence-Based Funding Enrollment Verification Tool, as well as a recording of and the PowerPoint presentation from a Nov. 2 webinar, according to an ISBE website on the topic

District superintendents are being asked to complete the first step in the data verification process by Friday, Nov. 17.

The IASA website contains a number of resources.
A number of resources to aid districts in understanding the Evidence-Based Funding Model have been created. PowerPoints at the hearings, a simplified Senate Bill 1947 presentation, and a breakdown of the 26 Evidence-Based elements are posted on the IASA website. Additional videos, webinars, and a fact sheet are available here

Workshops for administrators and other school leaders are also planned for early next year.