The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

February 18, 2014

School funding deal faces election year obstacles

Proposal puts money, resources into 1 pot

(Continued)

“It’s an ongoing conversation,” Brown said. “But I’m not sure that anybody’s developed an alternative that would win majority approval and bipartisan support.”

Lawmakers — particularly in moderate, property-rich districts — could look to appease taxpayers reluctant to give up the current system as they wage re-election battles.

“Realistically, I think we’re going to end up waiting,” Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont said.

As it stands now, Illinois schools get state money in a variety of ways. General state aid, the money used to offset the basic cost of educating students, is based on a formula that factors in poverty levels. This year, 41 percent of the $6.7 billion the state spent on preschool through 12th grade education was on general state aid.

Districts also get grants to use on programs like special education, transportation and vocational training, which don’t factor in poverty. Districts must submit expense claims for those programs and are reimbursed based on the number of students they serve.

The exception is Chicago, which receives a percentage of all state education dollars to spend at its own discretion. As a result, critics charge, it has received hundreds of millions more than if it were held to the same standard as other districts.

The state’s school funding formula hasn’t changed since the late 1990s, but over time increases to spending on specialized programs have outpaced increases to general state aid, resulting in the poorest districts often hurting the most.

Meanwhile, an increasing deficit and a growing unfunded pension liability diverted money from schools and social services, further exacerbating problems. The State Board of Education says that schools have endured more than $800 million in cuts since 2009.

It could get worse if lawmakers allow the temporary state income tax increase to expire as scheduled in January, which would mean the loss of an estimated $1.5 billion in revenue.

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