Handy: Education funding reform essential in Illinois
By Jessica Handy May 20, 2013 10:08PM
Updated: June 22, 2013 6:32AM
A September 2012 study by the Center for American Progress reaffirmed what we had known for decades — tremendous funding inequity exists between high- and low-poverty school districts in Illinois.
We have the second-most inequitable education funding system of any state, largely because of public education’s heavy reliance on the property tax in Illinois.
General state aid (GSA) is the state’s main funding stream to school districts, progressively funneling about $4.3 billion in state money to school districts based on a district’s ability to raise local tax money and how many of its children live in poverty.
GSA is the single-most important source of state funds for school districts that combats our extreme inequities. But it has been cut by about $320 million since 2009.
It’s time for the Legislature to get serious about education finance reform. And state Sen. Andy Manar’s Senate Joint Resolution 32, which passed the Senate without opposition last week, is a positive step toward a more fair financing system.
When funding is limited, our top priority is to protect the most vulnerable children. Every child has a fundamental right to a high-quality public education that prepares them for college, career and success in life.
But even within the state’s current budget crisis, consider some of these flawed education funding priorities that add to the disparities and merit a serious discussion:
School districts with more revenue and higher salaries inherently have higher educator pension costs. The state picks up most of the cost of the pensions, which disproportionately benefits the wealthiest districts.
At the same time, the state has set an education foundation level of $6,119 per student but has only appropriated enough to achieve a foundation level of $5,734. And when funds are short, the state prorates them proportionally across all school districts, hurting the poorest ones the most.
General state aid to schools isn’t just driven by the foundation level formula — 37 percent of it gets disbursed based on poverty counts. More money for districts with high rates of poverty is central to our mission and to closing the academic achievement gap.
But even our wealthiest school districts still have access to that extra poverty money. And while the overall cost of poverty grants has increased significantly, the maximum amount of the grant per student has remained unchanged since 2004.
The work group created by Senate Joint Resolution 32 would examine education funding overall, particularly focusing on GSA with a goal of providing adequate and equitable funding.
We are happy to join a growing list of organizations, legislators and individuals who support this resolution and hope we can work together to bring funding equity to our public schools.
Jessica Handy is the government affairs director at Stand for Children Illinois, a grass-roots education reform group that supports access to a high-quality public education for all children to close the academic achievement gap.