Confused About the New School Funding Reform Law?

Yesterday was the historic bill signing for SB1947, which fixes the worst school funding system in the nation and puts all Illinois schools on the path to adequate and equitable funding. Its predecessor, SB1, had been called the most thoroughly vetted bill in recent Illinois history, given the sheer number of public task forces, working groups, commissions, committees, analyses, hearings, and models surrounding it over four and a half years. That’s left a lot of people wondering…what’s the difference between SB1 and SB1947?

In short, SB1947 keeps SB1 mostly intact and adds some additional items. The major exception to SB1’s intact-ness: it moves the Chicago teacher pension cost provisions from the School Code to the Pension Code (a change that I consider mostly cosmetic, but one that was important because it fixed one of the most heavily criticized pieces of SB1). SB 1947 relaxes state mandates for school districts around P.E. and drivers education, streamlines the existing mandate waiver process, creates a small tax credit scholarship pilot program, allows Chicago to raise its own levy, creates a TIF task force, and builds in a process for taxpayers in school districts that are funded over adequacy to put a referendum on the ballot to decrease property taxes.

We’ll walk through these things point by point, but if you’re just sticking with this shorthand summary, suffice it to say that SB1947 is a huge win for our kids, our state, and our future. The path to get to this point was long and complicated, but it is truly a grassroots victory for every mom, dad, student, teacher, administrator, and taxpayer who spoke up and demanded change from their state government. We wouldn’t have gotten here without it.

The New Funding Formula

The evidence-based model in SB1947 works just like SB1’s. Read more about it here. Here it is in a nutshell. Every district gets:

  1. A “Base Funding Minimum,” which is equal to the amount of state aid it got last year. No one loses a penny state funds from the previous year.
  2. Its own “Adequacy Target” calculation, which looks at their unique population of students and calculates the cost of providing evidence-based practices proven to boost outcomes for those kids. Every district will have its own, unique “Adequacy Target.”
  3. A “Local Capacity Target,” which analyzes a district’s local ability to pay. When we add the Local Capacity Target to the Base Funding Minimum, we can measure how close each district is to its individual Adequacy Target.
  4. Funding from the new formula. New dollars are most heavily invested in the most underfunded districts. This year’s budget provides $350 million in increased funds for the formula.

Mandate Relief

Current law includes a process for districts to request waivers from almost any mandate in the School Code. SB1947 streamlines that process and makes it easier for districts to get relief from state mandates. Rather than requests going to the state legislature, SB1947 would require three of the four legislative leaders to specifically flag a waiver for further consideration in order for it to come before the General Assembly. Otherwise, the State Board would have the authority to approve the waiver.

A provision of state law that limited the number of waivers a district could submit related to the daily P.E. mandate was eliminated in SB1947. The law also changes Illinois’s daily P.E. mandate to a requirement that students have P.E. at least three times per week. Schools can also exempt middle school and high school student athletes from P.E. classes.

Finally, SB1947 removes restrictions around contracting with commercial driving schools to provide drivers education instruction.

Tax Credit Scholarships

SB1947 created a pilot program that would incentivize individual and corporate donations to private school scholarships by providing a 75% tax credit on those donations. The total state cost is capped at $75 million per year and the program will sunset after five years. Students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch are eligible for a full tuition scholarship to a non-public school and receive priority. Students with household incomes between 185% – 250% of the poverty line qualify for 75% of tuition and those between 250% and 300% of the poverty line qualify for a 50% scholarship. The maximum scholarship is equal to the average statewide operating expense per pupil, with additional weights for special needs students and those learning English.

Each year, students accepting the scholarship would take the state assessment. The State Board of Education (ISBE) must hire an independent researcher to complete a report, which would then be integrated in a report to the legislature.

Chicago’s Tax Levy

Chicago, like most districts, is subject to property tax caps that limit the total dollar amount that can be raised from property taxes. That limit is generally based on last year’s levy amount, increased for inflation. CPS’s property tax rate is one of the lowest among unit school districts in the state. A perennial complaint from some SB1 opponents has been that if the state steps up to help CPS, CPS needs to also step up locally. SB1947 authorizes an additional 0.567% levy to pay its debt for Chicago teacher pensions.

Tax Increment Finance Reform Task Force

Tax Increment Finance (TIF) districts, created by municipal governments, are theoretically an economic development tool to help municipalities develop blighted areas. In reality, TIFs remain controversial. Schools, libraries, and other taxing bodies do not collect increased property tax revenue from new developments in TIFs, and that property value is excluded from the state’s calculation of local wealth in the state aid formula. A task force will examine the costs and benefits of TIFs, especially as it relates to the school funding law, and report by April 2018

Property Tax Relief

The bill provides property tax relief directed at two different problems: (1) the property tax system is regressive and hits lower-income homeowners with higher tax rates, and (2) other areas of the state with high local wealth pay a higher dollar amount in property taxes, sometimes for schools that are funded well above their adequacy target.

To address the first issue, a Property Tax Relief Pool Grant program is created. The legislature would have to appropriate funds for the program to take effect, and districts with the highest tax rates would qualify for grants of up to 1% of their districts’ Equalized Assessed Valuation. The grant would be rebated to property taxpayers. Though this was included in SSB1, SB1947 made the additional change of allowing $50 million in property tax relief grants to count toward each year’s minimum funding increase, which further integrates property tax relief into the new system.

To address the second, voters in district that are funded at or above 110% of adequacy would have the ability to petition to get a referendum on the ballot to reduce the property tax levy by up to 10%. 

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