Superintendents push for more equitable school funding formula in Illinois

How well does your state fund its low-income students? A report from Advance Illinois shows that, for every dollar spent on a non-low income student, Ohio spends $1.22 on a low income student. Illinois falls in dead last, spending $0.81 on its low-income students.

School and legislative leaders in Illinois blame an outdated system that relies heavily on property taxes, which leaves low-income districts with far fewer dollars. But now, lawmakers and school leaders are coming together to try and change that.

Illinois House Bill 2808 aims to level the playing field for low-income school districts without taking money away from schools by using an evidence-based model to fund each district specifically based on need and the each district’s current system. If the bill passes, it could mean more money in your student’s classroom.

After 19 years of teaching in Crab Orchard, Kathy Fisher’s used to seeing classroom resources and state funding constantly shrink.

"The opportunities for the kids are limited," said Fisher, a social studies teacher at Crab Orchard High School. As a parent of a student attending Crab Orchard schools, she said that can be frustrating on multiple levels, especially seeing the opportunities other districts give students. With limited state funding, Crab Orchard has had to make cuts in areas including how often the district can buy new books for students and increasing class sizes.

"And programs have changed. There’s been programs dropped, such as music and art," Fisher said.

She and her students listened in Wednesday during a town hall meeting among southern Illinois superintendents and school leaders about HB 2808.

Goreville Superintendent Steve Webb said it would level the playing field for districts like Crab Orchard, which gets roughly $7,000 per student while fixing the gap that gives other districts four times that.

"This model takes the adequacy target of each individual district based on what they can generate locally, based on what they receive from the state, and they’ll come up with an adequacy target of what they need to fully function as a quality school," Webb said.

 "That is the gap that we’re trying to close with this funding model, and that should be the gap that we should be concentrating on in the legislature —not whether we’re going to fund kids at a certain level, but the gap between how we’re funding those that are wealthier districts and those that are high poverty districts," Webb said. 

Fisher said for her, it’s not about how much money schools get, but about making sure her students get the same chances to succeed as everyone else. 

"Just because you live in a different part of the state, you should not receive better opportunities, better facilities and education than students in small schools," Fisher said. 

If the bill passes, shifting the burden of funding public education would take some of the burden off property tax payers while still improving your child’s quality of education. School leaders say if you want to see this happen, you need to make your voice heard. They say reach out to your local lawmakers now, and let them know you want to see this pass before the spring session ends May 31.

When asked about the future of HB 2808, Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis released the following statement: 

The Governor’s office appreciates the work of Representative Davis as an active member of the Illinois School Funding Commission; however, it is still reviewing this bill.  We are waiting for Representative Davis to release the district-level data so that we can better understand the implications of the various components of the bill and how closely they reflect the work of the commission. 

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