Local school districts could see major changes in the funding they get from the state if a bill working its way through the Illinois Senate becomes law.
Bunker Hill Democratic Sen. Andy Manar led a news conference last week to announce what he calls The School Funding Reform Act of 2014, which would overhaul the state's education spending. A state Senate subcommittee approved the bill Tuesday and it will face a vote from the full committee before it moves to the full Senate.
In its current state, the bill would create the first significant reform in education funding in 17 years, distributing 92 percent of the total state education spending based on economic need. Only 44 percent of general state aid to school districts considers need in the current system, Manar said. It would be introduced in pieces over a three-year period.
Bloom Township Schools Treasurer Rob Grossi spoke about the imbalance in education spending at a Brookwood District 167 forum in March.
Grossi said districts like D.167, which receives nearly a third of its funding from the state, are at the mercy of state government financial woes. More wealthy districts that take in more in property taxes and need less state money can weather the fiscal problems in Springfield easier, Grossi said. Most districts in Cook County have low property tax values per pupil.
Once the calculations are done for individual school districts, it will be difficult for senators and representatives of districts who will lose funding to vote for the bill, Grossi said.
"The changes in this bill are so significant that it changes the entire model (for education spending)," Grossi said Tuesday. "Once the numbers determine the winners and losers, it will be hard for some of them to support it."
Lansing District 158 Business Manager Mark Crotty wouldn't comment on the bill's specific details, but said about 75 percent of his district's students are considered low-income.
"The state’s efforts to bring about equity in school funding is welcomed. However, creating equity in education is still challenging when school funds are generated based on local property taxes," Crotty said. "North shore suburban communities are very different from south suburban communities and downstate communities when it comes to property values."
Even if the bill should become law, Grossi said districts around the state will need to tighten belts in the future.
"Unless the state of Illinois can figure out a way to strengthen the economy, it will be difficult to provide adequate resources to allow all school districts to provide an education worthy of their students," Grossi said. "The reality is that unless schools can figure out a way to improve the quality of education with less dollars, it will be difficult for them to survive this long-term crisis."