Friday, July 11, 2014

Illinois to Change the Way It Funds Schools, Congress Should Pay Attention

This spring and summer, the Illinois legislature has been working to reform the way it funds schools.  This move is rather remarkable given that the state has been sued so many times for its inequitable funding, the courts have dismissed the claim as nonjusticiable each time, and, for the past few decades, the state has had one of the most inequitable funding systems in the country.

A bill reforming the funding formula has passed the state senate, but did not make it to the house in time for full consideration prior to the summer recess.  A special session may be called to deal with the bill.  If not, it will be at the top of the agenda for the next session.  Either way, there is significant optimism that it will eventually pass.

The current bill would consolidate the current funding formulas into one that prioritizes funding based on student need.  Several districts stand to substantially benefit.  The state board of

education noted these projected increases: 

- Rockford $18.5 million 17.5% increase
- Harlem $2 million 8.7% increase
- Belvidere $3.1 million 12.1% increase
- North Boone $926,000 17.1% increase
- Hononegah $101,000 2.2% increase
- Freeport $3 million 18.1% increase

The move toward student need is standard fare in states wishing to equalize schools.  No school funding formula is fair unless it prioritizes student need.  The consolidation of funding formulas is interesting for less obvious technical reasons.  When a state or the federal government creates too many distinct funding streams, they have the capacity to counteract one another.  As I explain here, Congress's practice of just adding new Title I formulas (funding for low-income students) without eliminating old ones has prevented it from addressing the inequalities it aims to correct.  Even worse, Congress has actually exacerbated some inequalities through its multiple complex formulas.  Illinois simply admits that its multiple formulas lack transparency and predictability.  Regardless, kudos to Illinois for doing the right thing (assuming things progress as planned).  Congress should take note in its next reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  If one of the nation's worst offenders is willing to change course, surely Congress can do the same.

It is important to note, however, that some local advocates remain upset that Illinois is not proposing to increase K-12 aid overall.  It is just redistributing it. The per-pupil aid in the state has consistently fallen below advisory board recommendations.

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