Crain’s guest column: Fix the school funding formula and open schools this fall

July 11, 2017 — Advance Illinois Co-Chairs John Edwardson and Marin Gjaja wrote a guest column for Crain’s Chicago Business advocating for the Governor to sign Senate Bill 1 and end the uncertainty facing school districts. Here’s the full column:

Last week, the General Assembly took the first step toward ending the financial uncertainty Illinois faces by passing a budget. But our state’s school districts still face financial insecurity—and that insecurity won’t end until the state enacts Senate Bill 1, the new school funding formula that ends an era of inequitable funding and ensures classrooms open on time this fall.

For years, our advocacy organization Advance Illinois has been part of a coalition working to fix how the state funds schools. SB1, which passed the General Assembly on May 31 and is heading to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desk, replaces the current formula that shortchanges our neediest students, providing 81 cents to low-income students for every dollar spent on their wealthier peers.

In 2015, The Education Trust, a national education policy organization, ranked Illinois worst in the nation for equitable school funding. The inequity is exacerbated by the growth in poverty across the state. As Crain’s noted in an editorial earlier this year, nearly half of Illinois’ school districts now are majority low-income. Further, in the last year, Illinois school students were hit with a double whammy: the inequitable funding model and underfunding by more than $1 billion due to the budget impasse. Districts that already faced crumbling infrastructure, outdated curricula and growing class sizes were forced to take out lines of credit to cover everyday costs.

Most everyone in Illinois, including Gov. Rauner and legislators from both parties, agrees that the current system is broken and in need of an overhaul. The governor convened a bipartisan commission last summer to make recommendations on how to best revise the formula. SB1 satisfies every key commission recommendation that had broad, bipartisan consensus.

SB1 delivers by calculating the cost of a quality education using evidence-based practices that have been shown to boost student achievement while adjusting for local demographics. The formula then drives new dollars to the neediest districts first—those property-poor districts with the fewest local resources and those with students with the greatest need. It does this without taking money from any district.

Under SB1, districts—and students—are treated equitably. For example, Chicago Public Schools has 20 percent of the students in Illinois and receives 20 percent of the new dollars in the formula. Downstate has 34 percent of the students in Illinois and receives 34 percent of the new dollars. SB1 also creates equity in pension funding. All districts in Illinois will have their normal pension costs paid by the state, ending an inequitable situation where Chicago Public Schools was the only district in the state that had to pay its own pension cost. All districts will have security in state support for their pension payments.

With the first day of school looming for many districts in Illinois, the time for debate and discussion about the formula is over. There’s only one place where kids should be this fall and every fall—in the classroom. We urge the Governor to sign Senate Bill 1.

Share