February 1, 2017
 
School Funding Reform Commission issues report

The Illinois School Funding Reform Commission issued its report to the General Assembly and Governor Bruce Rauner late Tuesday afternoon. The report includes several recommendations that are similar to the Evidence-Based Model that the Vision 20/20 coalition endorsed as part of its blueprint for the future of public education in Illinois.

The committee's closing statement, in part, said: "The funding formula in Illinois has been broken far too long...It is the Commission's hope that this framework is the basis for comprehensive, bipartisan, bicameral education funding legislation that will ensure that all students in Illinois have the same opportunity for high-quality education. We urge the Governor and the General Assembly to work quickly to resolve all outstanding issues needing resolution through legislative negotiations so that a new funding formula can be in place for Fiscal Year 2018."

The commission was chaired by Illinois Secretary of Education Dr. Beth Purvis and included five members from each of the four political caucuses in the General Assembly as well as five non-legislator appointments by the governor. State Superintendent Dr. Tony Smith and State Board Chairman Rev. James Meeks served as facilitators to the commission.

The commission chose to issue a report rather than to try and craft legislation. The commission's recommendations included:
  • Clearly defined adequacy targets for each school district based upon the unique needs of its student population. The targets will be based on adequacy elements that will be written into statute, though the commission members cited the importance of giving local districts flexibility in the implementation of the elements "that will lead to the best academic and socio-emotional outcomes for their students." In addition to the elements - and the Evidence-Based Model cites 27 elements - the adequacy calculation also would take into account student count, the number of students living in poverty (as determined by the Department of Human Services), concentration of poverty, and the diverse learner population.
  • Noting the financial struggles of the state, the commission stopped short of recommending a permanent versus temporary "hold harmless" provision. The report stated that currently $11 billion is spent on elementary and secondary education and that the amount is "inadequate and inequitable." The report went on to state "If a hold harmless provision is included, there will be little to no equity ever achieved within the existing $11 billion" and if one is not included "districts have little ability to plan and transition smoothly." Any hold harmless should be calculated on a per-pupil basis using a three-year average enrollment.
The commission concluded "The ability to dedicate additional resources to education funding is critical for the success of the Commission's work." The commission estimated that a minimum of $3.5 billion would be needed over the next 10 years in order for all districts to be funded at an adequacy level.
  • In addressing the issue of poverty, the commission cited increased funding to districts with high concentrations of poverty and using enrollment instead of daily average attendance as ways to address the issue of poverty as well as "new service delivery approaches." It also recommended additional funding for English Language Learners be included in the formula.
  • The commission acknowledged that the practice of proration of General State Aid (GSA) had a disproportionate impact on poorer districts that rely most on state aid and said that future decreases should protect those districts furthest from adequacy, with the cuts first coming from districts at or above adequacy levels, but the commission requested that ISBE model specific scenarios to ensure that the final bill language reflects the intent of the commission.
The commission also recommended that new state education funding should be distributed first to those districts furthest from adequacy, and should take into account local contributions to school funding, other hallmarks of the Evidence-Based Model.
  • Creation of the Commission for the Oversight and Implementation of the School Funding Formula composed of members of the General Assembly, and appointees by the governor and ISBE. This panel would be charged with recommending to the General Assembly any updates or adjustments. Upon creation of the new panel, the Illinois Education Funding Advisory Board would sunset.
  • With regard to pension payments, the commission made no recommendations, but noted that "both the normal cost of pensions and statewide pension liabilities affect the ability of the state to make strides toward adequate school funding." The report said $4 billion of the $11 billion spent on elementary and secondary education went toward pension payments owed by the state. The report also made note of the fact that the Chicago Public School (CPS) system is the only district in the state to pay for the employer share of pension costs.
  • The commission recommended leaving Early Childhood and Transportation out of the formula, but said "the funding of the majority of special education services will be incorporated" in the formula, as would funding for English Language Learners. It recommended maintaining current funding for disconnected youth.
  • Regarding charters, the commission said "district-authorized charter schools should receive adequate funding that is equitable to the funds allocated to district-managed public schools on a per-pupil basis."
  • Concerning consolidation, the committee said "consolidation in certain areas of the state is important but that the solution to this problem should not be reached through funding formula reform."
  • The report said that a spending transparency report "that is understandable to the average person be included on the Illinois State Report Card."
Among issues still requiring resolution, the committee cited mandate relief, location of educational services for students with disabilities, the CPS block grant and private school tax credits.

Diane L. Hendren
Chief of Staff/ Director of Governmental Relations 
Illinois Association of School Administrators