The School Funding Reform Commission issued its final report yesterday, which is significant because it is the first time during this round of funding reform talks that a bipartisan, bicameral group has come together and agreed on a framework. Today, it’s Groundhog’s Day – literally, but I hope not figuratively.
The Commission agreed to some pretty major things, like:
- Creating an integrated formula. Instead of having a formula plus a bunch of outside categorical programs for things like poverty and special education, the Commission agreed that an integrated formula that efficiently targets education funds based on student need and local ability to pay is the path forward.
- Identifying unique adequacy targets for every district. Right now, the Foundation Level of $6,119 applies the same to every student. There are categoricals on top of that, but there’s no mechanism for appropriately identifying an all-in number for how much money each district needs to educate their population of students. The framework proposes that every district have its own adequacy target calculated, based on things like the number of English learners, students in poverty, and students in each grade level and the cost-of-living in each region.
- Targeting new money to the district furthest from adequacy. Identifying adequacy targets for each district would enable us to see which districts are furthest from adequacy. The commission recommends investing new dollars more heavily in those districts that are the least adequately funded.
This is a big deal. This is a barebones structure of a complete overhaul of the formula.
Here’s where the groundhog question comes in: Is it dramatically different than what the Senate Education Funding Advisory Committee recommended in January 2014? Or the testimony that came before the House Education Funding Reform Committee in 2015? Or what was in the Evidence-Based Model filed in 2016?
I say yes. It’s different because this is the first time it’s come from legislators from all four caucuses and the Governor’s office. Have you heard that “joke” that only five people in Illinois know how the school funding formula works and they’re not allowed on the same plane together? After these six months of conversations, there are way more than five people who understand this.
However, if we don’t want this to be Groundhog’s Day all over again, it is time to get this over the finish line. Our kids should not have to wait any longer.