Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

In the RoundTable’s May 22 editorial, we raised a number of concerns about Senate Bill 16. The Senate passed the bill in late May, and it is currently pending in the House.

If enacted into law the bill will dramatically change the way in which the State allocates its funding to school districts throughout the State. Under the bill, approximately 92% of State funding for K-12 education would be distributed using a single formula. 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.

We support providing adequate funding so that each child receives an education that prepares him or her for college or a career. We are also willing to pay our share of any tax increase needed to accomplish that. Unfortunately SB 16 does not increase the amount of State funding for education, but divides a small pie in a different way.

We are concerned about the impact SB 16 will have on children in Evanston. The Illinois State Board of Education has calculated that 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.

The potential cuts are devastating because Districts 65 and 202 serve a high proportion of students from low-income families: 33% of District 65’s students qualify for “free lunch,” which is set at 130% of the federal poverty guideline; about 40% are from low-income families, using “free- and reduced-fee lunch” status as the measure, which is 185% of the federal poverty guideline.

In addition, 13.6% of District 65 students are English language learners (ELL); and about 14% have a disability.

These and other children will suffer if the State slashes its funding to our schools.

To address the needs of all children, the legislature should commit additional funds to education. It appears, though, the legislature lacks the political will to do so.

In this in the subsequent issues of the RoundTable, we plan to present some significant concerns with SB16 – beyond the failure to provide additional funding – which we think make it inequitable to school districts like District 65 that have relatively high property values and who  serve high percentages of children with high needs.

Here, we question why SB 16 fails to take federal funding into account in determining the amount of resources that a school district has available for educating its students.

SB16 provides a model to calculate 1) a school district’s theoretical Available Local Resources (ALR) and 2) its theoretical expenses. If its ALR exceeds its theoretical expenses, it gets no primary state aid. If its theoretical expenses exceed its ALR, then the school district gets the difference as primary state aid.

SB 16 computes a school district’s theoretical ALR by multiplying the equalized assessed value of property within its borders by an assumed tax rate of 2.36% and adding corporate replacement property taxes.

The formula does not take into account federal funds granted to a school district. This is a significant omission.

 According to a report prepared by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates for ISBE in September 2013, ISBE oversaw a total budget of $10.4 billion in FY 2012; $3.6 billion of which was federal funds, including federal support for special education, students from low-income households, and other federal programs.

Excluding $3.6 billion from SB 16’s formula that calculates ALR makes a huge difference.

At a forum at School District 65’s headquarters last month, a sponsor of SB 16 cited East St. Louis School District 189 as an example of the inequities in Illinois school funding. ISBE’s website shows District 189 had an average per pupil operational spending of $16,650 in 2012; and 23% of its funding was federal funding, or about $25.7 million.

This illustrates that federal funding is a significant source of revenues for some school districts.

We understand that federal funding may be earmarked for specific purposes, such as to support low-income students or special education students. But SB 16 also makes significant allocations for low-income students and special education students. At the very least, the two sources should each be considered in evaluating the resources available to educate low-income students and special education students.

We think SB 16 is flawed and creates inequities because it does not take federal funding into account in calculating a school district’s available resources.

In a subsequent issue of the RoundTable, we will look at the manner in which SB 16 gives only partial recognition to the impact of property tax caps in determining whether a school district receives primary State aid.