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K-12 Education Primer for 2018

Written by John Gordon

2017 proved to be a year of significant consequence for education policy in Illinois. A new funding formula came into law after years of starts and set-backs.

The foundation of the new funding formula is the Evidence-Based Model (EBM). The main components of the EBM are:

  • A unique adequacy target calculated for each individual school district.
  • A calculation on how much a local school district can contribute towards its adequacy target.
  • Inclusion of previous state resources into a district’s local capacity.
  • A distribution method (Tier System) that allocates new state funding towards districts that are furthest away from their adequacy target.

The bill calls for a substantial increase in state funding towards the new funding model, to the tune of $350 million a year for the next ten years (totaling 3.5 billion). This injection of state funding is needed to help close the gap between how much school districts rely on local taxes to fund schools compared to state funding (local taxes make up 2/3 of school districts revenue).

Governor Rauner signed the new EBM of school funding into law August 31st, 2017 after it passed both chambers of the General Assembly on a bipartisan basis. An additional $350 million was appropriated by the General Assembly when it passed a full year budget for the first time in two years.

But complications have arisen since the EBM became law. For starters, the new money appropriated for the EBM remains unspent, as the State Board of Education needs time to properly figure out how to distribute the new funds. School districts have received their “hold-harmless” funding, which is the same level of state funding they received last year, but many were expecting to see at least some of the new money this year and have had to dip into cash reserves or borrow money to make up for the unexpected shortfall.

Another problem arose when the Governor issued an amendatory veto of Senate Bill 444, which is a bill designed to help fix errors in the school funding bill. The Governor changed the bill to allow more private schools to be eligible to participate in the Invest in All Kids Program, which was created in the funding reform bill and allows for tax credits to be given to individuals and businesses who donate to scholarship granting organizations (who give low-income students scholarships to private schools).

The Governor’s veto language would make it much easier for schools to qualify to receive these scholarship students without having to pass inspections from the State Board of Education. As of now, the General Assembly must vote on whether to accept the Governor’s changes (which takes a simple majority vote), override his changes (which takes a 3/5 majority), or do nothing and the bill dies. If nothing is done or the General Assembly rejects the changes but cannot override them, it will further delay the Board’s ability to distribute the new funding that is currently sitting in the state’s bank account.

The big issue for K-12 education for this upcoming legislative session, before the Governor’s amendatory veto, was whether or not the General Assembly would allocate another $350 million for the next school year. This remains the major issue to watch, but now the veto changes the game a bit, in that schools may not see any new funding this year of action is not taken by the General Assembly. This would be a major setback after a substantial accomplishment.

Illinois’ school children are on the precipice of a new era in which their zip code is no longer a major factor in their quality of education. To handicap that process when it is just getting started would be a significant abdication of the state’s constitutional requirement to provide K-12 education to all Illinois students regardless of income, ethnicity, or location.

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