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On May 31, the Illinois legislature passed Senate Bill 1, which changes the way in which the State funds education. It adopts what is called “evidence-based funding.” Under the proposed model, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) would compute an “Adequacy Target” for each school district in the State. The Adequacy Target is theoretically the amount needed to properly educate every student. ISBE would also compute a “Local Resources Target” which theoretically is the amount each school district has available to fund education through property taxes and Base Funding Minimum from the State. A school district whose Local Resource Target is less than its Adequacy Target would be eligible to receive a share of the increase in funding that the State allocates toward education.

Under the bill, each school district would, as a minimum, receive the same amount of State funding as it did during the 2016-2017 school year (called the Base Funding Minimum, or the hold-harmless provision). Thus, School Districts 65 and 202 would receive the same amount as they received in fiscal year ending June 30, 2017.

A motion to reconsider SB1 was filed in the Senate to hold the bill in the legislature and delay sending it to Governor Rauner for action. After two months of badgering by the Governor, the motion to reconsider was withdrawn on July 31, and SB1 was sent to the Governor.  

As promised, Gov. Rauner issued an amendatory veto on Aug. 1. It makes some significant changes to SB 1, such as significant cuts to the funds that SB 1 allocated to the Chicago Public School system, a change to the hold-harmless provision, and a change in how property tax caps and TIF Districts figure into the calculation of a school district’s Local Resource Target.

The legislature now has three options: 1) it can accept Gov. Rauner’s amendments by a 60% vote in both the Senate and the House; 2) it can override his veto by a 60% vote in both the Senate and the House; or 3) it can fail to act, in which case the bill dies. If the legislature intends to act, it must do so within 15 days of the date Gov. Rauner’s veto was read in the legislature.

While there is some debate on the issue, there is a general feeling that a provision in the legislation that passed a State budget on July 5 may prohibit the State from distributing State funds for education unless either SB 1 is passed or another evidence-based funding model is adopted.

Absent approving a research-based funding model, perhaps the legislature could adopt legislation voiding that provision and continuing on with the current education funding scheme. At this point, that too would require a 60% vote.

There is some talk about whether a court could step in and order the State to make payments to fund education, but there is uncertainty about that too.

The leadership in Springfield has succeeded in creating another crisis that must be solved in two or three weeks, or else many schools throughout the State will not open. They have succeeded in creating a pressure point where many children will suffer if the Senate, the House, and the Governor cannot come together. The bargaining chip is children throughout the State.

We think that the State needs to distribute more funds to school districts that lack adequate funding, and that SB 1 is a better approach than prior models. There are some things, though, that give us concern.

For example, we do not think the “regionalization factor” settled on, in recognition that there are cost differences in different areas of the State, is realistic. It assumes that the cost to hire and retain teachers in Districts 65 and 202 is only about 5.7% higher than the State average.

Second, we are concerned that in calculating the amount of the Local Resources Target, that the impact of property tax caps is not fully recognized in the formula.  Gov. Rauner’s amendatory veto raises additional concerns on this point, and also on how the EAV in TIF Districts is handled

Third, under SB1, the Base Funding Minimum payment to be made to school districts is the amount “distributed” to a school district in the school year 2016-17. In 2016-2017, the State failed to make two categorical payments to Districts 65 and 202. Since those two payments were not made – or distributed – to the Districts, we are concerned whether they will be counted in determining their Base Funding Minimum. We believe they should be considered in setting the Base Funding Minimum.

Fourth, we have little confidence in Springfield. For years the legislature has not allocated what it was supposed to toward funding education, and as a result payments to school districts have been prorated. The State has gone for two years without a budget, and the budget adopted on July 5 falls short of bringing up all school districts to their adequate funding targets. The leadership in Springfield has created a crisis, and turned school children into pawns.

We are fortunate to live in a community where we do not depend primarily on State funding for education and where our schools will open. The folks in Springfield need to get their act together.