On Jan. 31, the Illinois Senate Education Funding Advisory Committee, a bi-partisan committee created by the Senate, issued a report that proposes a new way for the State to fund public education. The Committee says its report provides “a framework … that could serve as a basis for potential legislation.”

Lawmakers started discussing the proposals last week.

The Committee’s primary recommendation is that 96% of State funding be made through a single formula that would replace all of the State’s current education funding programs, such as general state aid and categorical grants. The single formula would not include funding for early childhood programs, high-need special education, and capital outlays, which would continue to be funded separately.

The formula would be based on a school district’s relative wealth. “District funding would be based on measures of student attendance – using the state’s current method – and the funding from this formula would be equalized depending on each district’s relative wealth,” says the report. “The Committee recommends that a district’s relative wealth be based on its average property wealth per pupil – as it is in the current formula.”

The single funding formula would allocate an additional funding “weight” for certain “high-need” students, such as at-risk students, English language learners, special education students, and gifted and talented students.

Currently 45% of the State’s dollars are equalized based on a school district’s relative wealth. Under the new formula, 96% of operational funding would be. “This will create greater equity between high and low property wealth districts,” says the report.

The report says any new funding formula should provide every school district “with a minimum amount of state funding,” but several members “expressed the concern that the current funding system directs too much state funding to the wealthiest districts and that the minimum funding amount may need to be adjusted to take this into account.”

Perhaps in recognition that some school districts will receive less state funding under the new formula, the Committee suggests that the State keep school districts at current funding levels for three- to five-years to enable them to prepare for the shift.

Another major recommendation of the Committee is that the State increase the amount it allocates to educational funding. The report says, “the General Assembly should work, over the next 5-7 years, to increase educational funding to the level necessary to reach the recommended foundation level provided by the Education Funding Advisory Board of $8,672.”

Unlike previous proposals that would have done away with funding education primarily through property taxes, the Committee’s proposal would leave property tax funding in place, with one exception. The Committee recommends that the maximum tax rates applicable to the education, transportation and other funds for dual school districts (e.g. separate districts for K-8 and high school) be reduced to the rates permitted for unit districts (K-12 school districts). 

State Senator Daniel Biss (D. Evanston) said in a prepared statement, “Changing the formula that distributes money to school districts will never be painless or easy. But the committee’s recommendations are a firm step in the right direction.”  

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...