New school aid formula wins senate panel endorsement

2014-04-10T15:41:00Z 2014-04-10T21:25:05Z New school aid formula wins senate panel endorsementT.J. Fowler Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
April 10, 2014 3:41 pm  • 

SPRINGFIELD | A proposal to change the state’s school aid formula won the endorsement of a Senate panel Thursday, despite continued resistance from Republican lawmakers.

The legislation would make the state distribute almost all school funding based on each district’s ability to pay, but Republicans say the plan hasn’t been sufficiently researched.

“It’s ridiculous to think we might vote on this without seeing the data,” said Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington. “I think local districts also want to know the effect this bill will have on them.”

A change in the formula would change the amount of money each school district receives, but state agencies haven’t yet compiled the numbers for each district.

Officials from the Illinois State Board of Education say they’re currently looking at the legislation and expect to have financial estimates prepared by mid-May.

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, is sponsoring the legislation. He argued Thursday the estimates are only one part of the discussion.

“Yes, printouts matter,” Manar said. “Yes, it matters whether a district is up or down, but at the same time we should have an equally important discussion of what is good policy. How are we distributing money? That is equally important.”

Manar said that today Illinois measures only 44 percent of state aid against a school district’s ability to pay. Under the new formula, 90 percent of funding would be need-based.

“This sets us apart from nearly every other state in the country, when we devote less than half of our appropriation of education without considering the need,” he said. “That makes us an anomaly in the country. This amendment seeks to correct that and get us on a better path.”

Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard agrees.

“A failed funding formula for Illinois’ public schools has resulted in too many students who aren’t prepared to succeed in college,” Poshard said in a written statement. “We need to change that.

“If we expect our children to take their place in the great middle class, then we must give them and their schools a fair funding formula that makes opportunity a reality for all.”

But Republicans argue that some areas of the formula are flawed, particularly its handling of poverty.

Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said school districts in poor areas of large cities could receive grants of up to $5,200 per student, while students in less populous towns wouldn’t receive the same treatment.

“A poverty student in one school, you’re getting $300,” Luechtefeld said. “A poverty kid in another school gets $3,000. Should there be that much discrepancy?”

Manar said that without an ISBE estimate, there’s no reason to believe those numbers.

“I don’t buy those numbers,” he said. “I don’t know who created those numbers. Partisan staff created those numbers.”

He said that a good deal of criticism against the bill has been made for political purposes, and added that he hoped to see more cooperation moving forward.

“I’m open to any suggestion they have,” he said. “I have been since day one. This has to be a bipartisan process.”

The Senate Executive Committee voted 10-2 to endorse the proposal, with two members voting present. It now returns to the Senate for further debate.

The legislation is Senate Bill 16.

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