By Larry Gavin

On Sept. 18, the Joint Committee of District 65/202 School Boards decided to prepare a joint resolution stating that Districts 65 and 202 oppose Senate Bill 16, with a list of their concerns about the bill.

SB16 was passed by the Senate in May and is now pending in the House. If passed into law, it will dramatically change the way in which the State allocates its funding to school districts. Significantly, it does not increase the amount the State will put toward education. It simply divides up a small pie in a different way.

Under SB16, approximately 92% of State funding for K-12 education would be distributed using a single formula. Generally, school districts with higher assessed property values will see a drop in State funding. Those with lower assessed property values, will see an increase.

The stated purpose of the bill is to ensure that all school districts in the State have funding available, through a combination of State aid and property taxes, to provide a foundational level of support for each student.

The Illinois State Board of Education has calculated the amount of State funding each school district will receive if SB16 becomes law. District 65 would lose 85% of its State funding, or $6.5 million per year. School District 202 will lose 81% of its funding, or $2.2 million per year. These losses would be phased in over four years.

The Committee’s Discussion

On Sept. 16, State Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) hosted a panel discussion on school funding in Illinois, with Paul Goren superintendent of District 65, and Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), lead sponsor of Senate Bill 16, as guests. The forum was held at District 65’s administration building.

Tracy Quattrocki, president of the District 65 School Board, said Sen. Manar “made a strong case for why we do need reform.” She added that people in attendance expressed “very real concerns, getting down to the more granular level of what we can do to change the formula to actually not have as great an impact on districts like ours, which have high property values.

“We could frame the resolution in two ways: either as concerns about the bill, or as support for the bill but presenting things that need to be considered before the bill is finalized. I had the impression that – and I might be wrong – but it feels like it’s going forward and we need to have our voices heard. If it’s going to pass, instead of just blocking it, we need to say here’s what needs to be done to make it fair.”

Ms. Quattrocki said some concerns expressed and suggestions made at the forum include: look at ways to measure the depth of poverty and the impact of poverty; incorporate differences in the cost of living in different areas of the State into the State aid formula; take into account local efforts to raise property taxes; and instead of looking at school districts’ ability to raise revenues through property taxes, shift the approach to have funding follow students who have the greatest needs.

Gretchen Livingston, president of the District 202 School Board, said, “I feel very strongly, and I say this without a doubt, there is absolutely no way that I would recommend that our Districts support this bill.”

She added, “It not our job to create a bill that we would like to see. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have input into the discussion. I would frankly argue that a lot of input that has been sought by the sponsors of this bill has come after the fact.

“I think there are ways to oppose Senate Bill 16 in a resolution if we want to do that and at the same time suggest being very factual – and I think Paul [Goren] did a great job on Tuesday being very factual – ‘Hey this is big money for our Districts.’ We can still suggest some of the points you made Tracy that have been raised repeatedly.”

Ms. Livingston also said the resolution should address that the State does not provide adequate funding for education. She said Illinois ranks 49th in terms of funding education and the amount of State funding has declined more than 10% in the last 14 years.

“In my mind the adequacy discussion is critical and you can’t have a discussion around equity – something we deal with every day on the ground and we’ve been dealing with it for a very long time – without a discussion on adequacy.”

The State is just now raising the equity issue, she said. “Good for them. They’re there, but we’ve been there for a really long time. I think it’s unfair to expect that we’re going to engage in that discussion without some serious discussion about adequacy.”

District 202 Board member Jonathan Baum suggested that the resolution might say, “We support making school funding more equitable for districts throughout the State, but we oppose SB16 in its present form because it is flawed, and then identify what our concerns are. On the point that the State’s funding of education is inadequate, he said, realistically the State is not going to substantially increase funding. “But,” he said, “I think we still have to put that marker down.”

He added that SB16 was modeled after a bill in Massachusetts, but the difference was that Massachusetts put an additional $1 billion into education when they passed the bill.

Ms. Quattrocki said, “I agree with that. I agree with the way you positioned that.”

District 202 Board member Bill Geiger said, “I would put more emphasis on the adequacy of funding.” He said he sensed a willingness at the forum to roll over on the fact that Illinois is 49th in terms of State funding. “That’s appalling,” he said. “We need to put a very strong marker down on adequacy. Otherwise it so feels like we’re accepting a situation that I think in good conscience we cannot accept as stewards of a very generous public, very generous taxpayers, who also have high expectations of us.”

Ms. Quattrocki said, “I think we need to make that statement.” She said the resolution should also hone in on how SB16 will affect the Districts. “It will have a serious impact.”

Ms. Livingston volunteered to take the lead in drafting a resolution, and said she could use a resolution adopted by another school district as “a good base.”

A draft resolution will be reviewed by the joint committee at its meeting in October and then presented for discussion and adoption at the joint meeting of the Boards on Nov. 3.