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Cautiously Optimistic

Current Events & News, Legislation, School Funding | 06/30/2016

Jessica Handy
Government Affairs Director

Jessica works with parents, legislators, and other stakeholders to push for policy that puts children first.

UPDATE: The amendment has now been filed to SB 2047.

Midnight tonight marks the end of Illinois’ Fiscal Year 2016, and it actually looks like we might enter Fiscal Year 2017 on Friday with a budget! The Governor and legislative leaders met yesterday morning, then kept at it in a series of meetings throughout the day, and made a lot of progress toward an agreement.

We got some snippets of information about the education bill that looks like it’s coming together and wanted to provide an update. (But keep in mind that we haven’t seen bill language for the formula changes and that none of this is a done deal until they pass it to the Governor’s desk and he signs it into law.)

SCHOOL FUNDING FORMULA CHANGES

First, the (as-yet-unseen) bill would give every school district the same amount as they received last year through the formula. Then, $250 million would be distributed through an Equity Grant, which would flow to districts based on their poverty concentration. Finally, every district would get at least what it would have received if the formula were fully funded next year, even if the first two pieces didn’t get them quite there. My math shows the total increased cost would be $328 million.

This isn’t a long-term solution to fix the deeply inequitable funding disparities in Illinois. Illinois’s school formula is one of the most regressive and unfair system in the country and we desperately need a comprehensive solution. But, without an education budget in place, the neediest students in the poorest districts will suffer the most. The Equity Grant proposal takes a step toward equity while giving the legislature time to come up with a new funding structure.

Below are two charts. The first shows where new dollars would be allocated if the current General State Aid (GSA) formula were fully funded. The second shows how the Equity Grant proposal increase is allocated. Funding the current GSA system results in a trendline that has no correlation to district need. The Equity Grant trend shows more dollars being delivered to schools with higher rates of poverty – exactly the direction that Illinois needs to move in.

Want to know more details about what this means for your own school district? ISBE's official numbers are available here. Keep in mind we haven’t seen language and there are a few variables that could change. (In fact, one variable will definitely change – we need to revise this using net GSA numbers for last year instead of gross GSA. It’s not a huge difference, but we’ll dig that up ASAP and update this.) In general, lower-income districts across the state will see the biggest per pupil gains, from Antioch far up north (+$788 per pupil) to Anna-Jonesboro far down south (+$600) and from Brooklyn in the Metro East (+$650) to South Holland in the South suburbs (+$491). Chicago Public Schools has the 111th biggest per pupil gains (+$291).

PENSION MATTERS

SB 2822 would provide state funding for the “normal cost” of the Chicago Teacher Pension Fund. (That is, the State would pay the $205 million needed to keep up with current costs, but CPS would still be on the hook for its pension debt.) The State already pays the employer cost for teacher pensions outside of Chicago. Last year, that cost $3.7 billion and this year the increase is about $250 million.

Now the big catch. We understand the plan is for the General Assembly to vote on the bill, hold onto it with a parliamentary procedure, and not send it to the Governor until January. In the meantime, all sides will try to work out additional pension reforms. If the Governor is unsatisfied with the reform compromises, he could veto the bill.

Finally, SB 318 allows the Chicago Board of Education to authorize a separate property tax levy for pension payments.

Taken together, these are critical steps toward fairer education funding. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that everything comes together!

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