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With a unanimous vote of 14-0, members of the District 65 and 202 School Boards approved a resolution at their Nov. 3 joint meeting, formally opposing a school funding bill that would drastically reduce the amount of money the state allocates to Evanston/Skokie schools. The two Boards worked closely for more than a month to craft the resolution.
The legislation, Senate Bill 16, aims to change the formula used to distribute limited State funds among Illinois school districts. Generally, districts with higher assessed property values would receive less State money. While there is extra weight given in the formula for low-income populations, the bill would eliminate the supplemental low-income grant for districts like those in Evanston with high-poverty populations. Additionally, the bill would eliminate funding for special education personnel, even though state and federal law requires that school districts provide services to students with a disability.
The Illinois Senate passed the bill in late May, and it is currently pending in the House. If it is enacted into law, District 65 would lose 85% of its State funding or $6.5 million per year. District 202 would lose 81% of its funding, or $2.2 million per year. The cuts would be phased in over four years.
The bill does not increase state funding, which has decreased by more than10% over the last 14 years. Currently, Illinois ranks 50th of the 50 states in State dollars directed toward education, according to Illinois State Board of Education budget figures for FY2014.
District 202 Board President Gretchen Livingston said the resolution (printed below) outlined the reasons why the SB16 is problematic.
“What I want to make clear here tonight, and I know both Boards completely recognize this, is we as School Boards grapple on the ground with equity issues every day and confront the really tough realities that our students face,” Ms. Livingston said. “It’s very difficult to turn around and find that our State legislators haven’t been willing to step up financially to share in that burden or even come close to sharing in that burden. Instead, the citizens of Evanston are asked to shoulder the lion’s share of the cost of educating our students.”
District 202 Board member Jonathan Baum said at the meeting that the “focus” of the bill is wrong, that the bill should be about “fairness to the kids, and not just ours,” instead of focusing on districts that are “artificial entities.”
Bill Geiger, District 202 Board member, said the bill attempts to address a “complex problem” and that “good intended people” are working to remedy a difficult situation.
State Senator Daniel Biss, who hosted a forum at the J.E .Hill Education Center on Sept. 16 specifically to solicit input on school funding, voted in favor of SB 16. He acknowledged, however, that there may be some ways to “alter the formula” in the bill to look at such things as poverty density, cost of living and local effort to collect property taxes. Senator Heather Steans, who represents southern portions of Evanston, also voted in favor of the bill.
Ms. Livingston said at the Board meeting that she does not believe the bill in its current form will be called in the November veto session in Springfield but urged people in the community to contact their legislators.
Ms. Livingston told the RoundTable that Districts 65 and 202 will be sending a copy of the resolution to all of the Districts’ legislators, City officials and Rep. Jan Schakowsky and post a copy on their websites. They will also share the resolution with the PTA Council, Parents Engaged and other local groups, with ED-RED and other advocacy groups, and with other interested school districts.
District 65 Board President Tracy Quattrocki said she had met with Sen. Biss and that he is “very eager to have our input.” She too encouraged everyone to reach out to him and others.
The 1970 Illinois Constitution states in Article X, Section 1:
“The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services. Education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free. . . The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.”
Despite this Constitutional mandate Illinois currently ranks 50th out of 50 states in State dollars directed to education. (1)
–State funding for education has declined over 10% over the last 14 years. (2)
–State payments to schools have been late or skipped entirely in recent years. (3)
–State mandates have increased in number and cost to Districts and now total at least 140. (4)
Education Funding in Evanston
Because Districts 65 and District 202 are “alternate grant” funded schools, which receive relatively little State funding, the Districts must rely almost exclusively on local property tax revenue as limited by tax caps to fulfill the responsibility that is supposed to be the State’s.
Evanston’s low-income students (defined as those eligible for free or reduced lunch) make-up 38% of students in District 65 and over 44% of students in District 202. In addition, District 65 has at least 481homeless students and District 202 has at least 158 homeless students as of 2014. (5)
Senate Bill 16 and Its Negative Impact
Last year the Senate Education Funding Advisory Committee (EFAC) was charged with proposing a state education funding system that provides adequate, equitable, transparent and accountable distribution of funds to school districts. (6)
After EFAC issued its report on the broken state of school funding in Illinois, the Senate passed SB16, which ignores the “adequacy” charge of EFAC but purports to address the “equity” piece. (7) SB16 shifts State money from some Districts to others but provides no increase in the State budget for public education, a notable difference from similar approaches in other states.
Among the fundamental defects in SB16 are:
–The SB16 funding formula purports to take the low-income population into account, but instead, it weighs District property tax wealth far more heavily. In other words it reflects more concern with “poor” districts than with low-income children. More specifically, SB16 would eliminate the supplemental low-income grant for districts, like Districts 65 and 202, with high concentrations of poverty, and the proposed funding formula fails to take into account the depth of poverty in particular districts.
–SB16 does not address the over 10% decrease in state funding for schools over the last 14 years in Illinois, the late and skipped payments owed by the State to schools, or the unfunded mandates increasingly directed to schools.
–SB16 would eliminate funding for special education personnel, despite the fact that providing services to students with disabilities is mandated by both State and federal law. Resolution, Page 2
–SB16 inaccurately inflates the “Available Local Resources” of Districts 65 and 202 (and other districts) by assigning the same Equalized Assessed Valuation (EAV) to properties without regard to location and by calculating Available Local Resources without the adjustment for the impact of property tax caps.
The change contemplated by SB16 would negatively impact about half of the school districts in Illinois, especially in the northern portion of the State. More important, it would negatively impact the students of those districts, especially those most at risk. Overall, school districts in Cook County and the collar counties would lose about $228 million in State funding, and the rest of the State would gain that amount.
District 65 would lose 84.9 percent of its State funding or $6.5 million per year and District 202 would lose 80.8 percent of its State funding or $2.2 million. The first $8.7 million combined cut would be phased in over a four-year period. Beginning in year five, there would be a full $8.7 million reduction in funding to the Districts. (8)
With the loss of $8.7 million in funding, Districts 65 and 202 would have little choice but to reduce programs and services to our students. Those reductions could include reductions in teaching staff (personnel costs are three quarters of District budgets) that could lead to larger class sizes with less personalized instruction for our students.
Evanston Schools Cannot Support SB16
Without addressing adequacy in a way that acknowledges the cost of educating high-need students, SB16’s purported focus on equity falls flat. The elected school boards of District 65 and District 202 recognize that the funding formula for Illinois public schools is broken. In order for the state to fulfill its commitment to providing an effective and adequate education to all children, especially low-income children and those with special needs, a new funding formula that supports the learning and development of all children is necessary. Senate Bill 16 in its current format does not fulfill these parameters leading both District 65 and District 202 to oppose its passage. SB16 penalizes schools in communities that have prioritized funding of public education and taken on the tax burden that supports high-quality public education in their communities. Communities have taken this approach because the State has failed to be the “primary” provider of the “free” and “high quality” public education required by the State Constitution. The answer to the inequity of a system that forces local communities to take on an obligation of the State is not to penalize those who take on that burden but for the State to acknowledge its own obligation and properly fund education across the State.
For these reasons, Districts 65 and 202 oppose SB16.
Tracy Quattrocki, District 65 Board President, Gretchen Livingston, District 202 Board President