Confused About the School Funding Bill that Springfield Passed?

Good news from the Capitol! Four long years into the conversation about fixing the worst school funding system in the nation, both the Illinois House and the Senate passed a strong school funding reform bill last night. It’s the closest we’ve seen to getting a solution!

The full name of the bill is the Evidence-Based Model for Student Success Act (otherwise known as SB1). Simply put, this bill pulls together relevant research and evidence on how schools should be funded to ensure students’ academic success.

What does this mean for my child’s school?

Two key concepts help answer this important question.

First, remember that school funding is calculated on a per-pupil basis. Second, “adequate funding” or “adequacy” refers to what it costs for a school district to provide the evidence-based practices that drive student achievement.

Under SB1, no district loses money. In fact, every district gets an increase in funding from the state. The districts that are furthest from “adequate funding” get the biggest increases, because of the particular needs in their district (such as high poverty). The range of additional funding goes from $900 per pupil for Waukegan, to $193 per pupil for Chicago, to $1 per pupil for Lake Forest.

Of Illinois’ 860 school districts, about 100 of them would receive more than $400 per pupil. Two-thirds of those are located downstate and one-third are suburban. Another 140 districts, which are already funded at over 100% of adequacy, would see just $1 per pupil.

Check out the Illinois State Board of Education’s estimate of how much each district would receive. (Follow the link and click “House Amendment 1 to Senate Bill 1 (Manar/Davis).” Click the link in the dropdown menu to open the spreadsheet.)

How does this bill work?

Think of it in four major components:

1. First, each district get its “Base Funding Minimum,” which means whatever each district gets from the state this year, it will continue to receive in perpetuity. No district loses funding.

2. Then, an “Adequacy Target” is calculated for each district based on what it costs for a district to provide the evidence-based practices that drive student achievement.

For example, research shows that an average-sized school building needs a principal, librarian, and nurse and that low-income kindergarteners benefit from a full day of instruction with a 1:15 class size ratio. Teachers need high-quality professional development and instructional coaches. Students with special needs need extra support, as do English learners and low-income students.

3. Next, a “Local Capacity Target” is calculated for each district based on how much property wealth each district has available to contribute. When we add the “Base Funding Minimum” to this number, we see how much the district has available to spend, and from there, we can identify how close a district is to being adequately funded.

4. Finally, new dollars flow through the new model, funding districts that are furthest from adequacy. Districts are divided into four tiers, from the least adequately funded in Tier 1, to those funded over adequacy in Tier 4. The first half of new funds will be invested in the Tier 1 districts, followed by the next 49 percent invested in the Tier 1 and 2 districts.

The bill also creates a property tax relief pool available to districts with low property wealth but high property tax rates. This incentivizes these type of districts to reduce their rates on property tax payers.

What about the budget?

We also need a K-12 education budget so that dollars can be distributed as set forth in SB1. The only budget that passed in the last two years was the K-12 budget; that needs to happen again for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The legislature will continue meeting throughout June to work toward an agreed budget compromise.

What will Chicago Public Schools get?

Chicago is caught in the middle: on the one hand, it’s the economic hub of the state and home to nearly 400,000 of two million Illinois schoolchildren. On the other, it’s the big city that some of the rest of Illinois loves to hate. Chicago Public Schools, which is 269th on the list for SB1, would receive $193 per pupil in new funding.

So why are some calling this bill a Chicago bailout?

We urge you to look at the facts. Don’t get played. Earlier attempts at funding reform could have created winners and losers and pitted Chicago against the rest of the state…but not this time and not this bill.

Remember these facts:

  • No district loses money. Every district gets at least what it received from the state last year.
  • Money is directed to the districts that need it the most because they are the farthest away from adequacy.
  • Chicago is by far the largest school district in the state and has 86 percent of its kids living in poverty. On a per pupil basis, there are 268 districts that get more than they do. If $350 million is invested, an amount a lot of legislators have been talking about, Chicago would receive $70 million of it.

Then, there’s the teacher pension funding issue…

The state pays almost all of the employer costs for teacher pensions outside of Chicago, and almost none for Chicago teacher pensions. The amount the state pays for pensions outside of Chicago was more than the whole allocation to the school funding formula last year. In fact, while the state gave the non-Chicago Teachers Retirement System $4 billion last year, Chicago’s Teacher Pension Fund got nothing. That $4 billion increases next year to $4.6 billion.

SB1 would provide Chicago with $215 million for its pension. That covers the “normal cost” of Chicago teacher pensions only – not any of the legacy costs for pension debt. The remaining $500 million in pension debt costs would be recognized when the formula considers how much local capacity CPS has to fund its schools, but the benefits for that adjustment are already accounted for in the $70 million figure expressed above. The district cannot spend the same dollar twice, so subtracting this from local capacity is entirely reasonable.

What happens next?

We’re as close as we’ve ever been to fixing our broken system, but we’re not at the finish line. When the Senate sends the bill to the Governor’s desk (that could happen any day now), he has 60 days to sign it into law or veto it.

So we need to turn up the pressure and let Governor Rauner know that school funding reform matters across Illinois. (Contact the Governor here.)

If Gov. Rauner vetoes the bill, the legislature will have the chance to override the veto with a three-fifths majority vote in both the House and Senate. That means the bill needs more yes votes than when it passed last night by simple majority. Because this bill has tremendous benefits for districts up and down the state (even for some who voted no for it last night), we need show our support for SB1.

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