The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

February 18, 2014

School funding deal faces election year obstacles

Proposal puts money, resources into 1 pot

SPRINGFIELD — A bipartisan collection of lawmakers has come together to pitch something not accomplished in years — a change in Illinois’ school funding formula that would narrow the gap between the amount spent on students in richer and poorer school districts.

The caveat? It’s an election year, so chances that lawmakers will ultimately act on the plan are in doubt.

The proposal, presented by Democrats and Republicans on a Senate education committee this month, would put almost all state education funding into one pot, then require districts to demonstrate need before receiving part of it. The current method factors in a district’s poverty for some types of state aid, but not others, and it treats funding for Chicago schools differently.

Backers say it’s time to act on changes, with a tough budget year ahead in which further cuts to school funding are a real possibility. The issue has support from lawmakers around the state, and there is hope that Chicago officials will embrace the changes in exchange for more stable funding, even though it could mean millions of dollars less for the city’s schools.

“We have to get the distribution formula right. What should it focus on, where should our priorities be?” said state Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat who co-chaired the committee.

Manar says the issue of equity in school funding must be addressed before a conversation about whether schools are adequately funded. During lean times, wealthier districts with more property tax revenue have an advantage over poorer districts, and can more easily offset cuts in state aid.

Manar said he plans to introduce legislation based on the bipartisan proposal by March.

Still, broad support in the Legislature could be hard to come by in an election year, said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who hasn’t yet committed to support the plan.

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