SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Illinois School Funding Reform Commission approved a framework that allows members of the General Assembly to create a new school funding formula, but a key member of the panel says there is still much to be done.
The funding reform commission completed its work on deadline Wednesday, but fair and adequate education funding remains out of reach for too many children across Illinois, Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said.
“If we can get a bill in front of lawmakers this spring, then that will be the true measure of success for the governor’s commission,” said Manar, a longtime advocate for school funding reform and the Senate’s point person on the issue. “But forgive me if I’m not ready to unfurl the mission accomplished banner just yet.”
During the summer, Rauner appointed a 25-member commission tasked with studying Illinois worst-in-the-nation school funding formula, which creates winners and losers among students and school districts across Illinois because of its overreliance on local property taxes to fund schools.
The commission met 18 times between August and Wednesday. Its final recommendations include moving Illinois to a new funding formula, a hold-harmless clause to prevent districts from losing state funds, more local control and greater transparency about spending, mandate relief for school districts, additional money for English learners and low-income students and more.
The bipartisan commission also recommended an increase of at least $3.5 billion for school funding.
“The commission should be commended for its work the past six months. I am pleased that we have a new level of awareness of the state’s school funding crisis because of this bipartisan, bicameral discussion,” Manar said.
“But in terms of a product, that work yielded another report on Illinois’ already well-documented school funding reform problems. We have a loose framework – a guide – for moving forward. What we do not have today is a piece of legislation to debate in the General Assembly. That has to be the next step.”
Manar commended Beth Purvis, Rauner’s secretary of education, for her leadership role with the commission and said he looks forward to the governor’s staff translating the recommendations into a bill that will be introduced in the Legislature this spring.
“The commission’s work was substantial, but what happens now is up to Gov. Rauner,” Manar said. “The goal has always been and should continue to be permanent reform that guarantees fair funding for all Illinois schools.”
In a statement, Rauner said “Illinois is another step closer to fixing our broken school funding system.”
He praised the commission members for putting politics aside “to advance a bipartisan framework that can serve as an immediate roadmap for legislation. The framework ensures all public school children in Illinois receive equitable funding, no matter where they live. We look forward to working with members of the General Assembly to quickly resolve the outstanding issues identified in the report with the hope of enacting a bipartisan school funding reform package as soon as possible.”
The 25 commission members, comprised of five members from each party in each chamber and five members appointed by the governor, met for over 75 hours in the last six months to reform the school funding formula. The framework will better focus resources on the needs of the students and districts. Through this framework, new funding will first go to schools who are farthest away from their adequacy targets, serving the most vulnerable students. This measure will address inequity within districts, not just among districts, and also ensure all public school children, including those who attend charter schools, receive equitable treatment.
“This has been a robust, bipartisan and bicameral process,” said Illinois Secretary of Education Dr. Beth Purvis. “I am incredibly thankful that these really dedicated members of the General Assembly and the Governor’s appointees were able to come and have substantive conversations in which children were at the center of the decision-making.”
— From the Illinois Business Journal