The 40-year war for fair school funding

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Since 1970, activists and supportive politicians have been pushing for a better way to fund Illinois schools. The current system leaves the poorest districts with the least property wealth out in the cold.

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Since 1970, activists and supportive politicians have been pushing for a better way to fund Illinois schools. The current system leaves the poorest districts with the least property wealth out in the cold.

Then


Springfield’s latest battle over education funding has roots stretching back to 1970. That’s when a bunch of tired delegates to Illinois’ Constitutional Convention settled on compromise language proposed by the late Dawn Clark Netsch to describe the state’s responsibility for funding public schools:

“The state has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public educational institutions and services.”

To most people, that certainly sounds like state government should shoulder most of the expense of public K-12 schooling. But in reality, local districts still bear much of the load, creating disparities that disproportionately hurt children of color, but also impact non-minority rural districts downstate.

Illinois has for years ranked at or near the bottom nationally for state school funding. Plus, poorer districts get hit harder: A report from the Education Law Center shows that for every dollar of state funds sent to a wealthier Illinois district, a poorer one gets only 90 cents.

Meanwhile, the language from 1970 was not language a court could enforce. Delegates knew that at the time, but hoped the wording would inspire lawmakers to take action on the matter.

Advocates are still waiting for that legislative fix, and some have tried to get the courts involved. (A detailed review of those lawsuits is here.) In 2008, the Chicago Urban League became the latest, citing a civil rights basis for its suit.

The most recent major change to the state’s funding formula came in 1997, when the legislature changed how it allocates supplemental money to high-poverty school districts. The group Designs for Change successfully lobbied to guarantee that high-poverty schools in Chicago would continue to receive school-based discretionary funds that schools could decide on their own how to spend. The 1997 law also created the Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB), which recommends a per-pupil amount for general state aid. However, the state legislature has only funded education up to the EFAB-recommended level once, in the 2002 school year.

See “‘Have not’ districts push for equity,” Catalyst April 1992 and “Big plans await money from Springfield,” Catalyst December 1997

Now


The most recent grassroots efforts to push for change peaked between 2007 and 2009. The A+ Illinois Coalition took the first shot when it tried unsuccessfully to push former Gov. Rod Blagojevich into an income tax increase to give schools more money. Later, the Rev. James Meeks, then a state senator and now chair of the Illinois State Board of Education, led the charge and organized a two-day boycott of Chicago Public Schools to push a bill that would have swapped property tax relief for an income tax increase. Even students got on board and began organizing. Meeks’ bill gained surprising traction and passed the Senate before dying in the House.

The same year, the Chicago Urban League tried a new legal tactic in the fight to change how Illinois funds schools. Its lawsuit charged that Illinois’ state education funding method violated minority students’ civil rights because they disproportionately live in the poorest districts with the least property wealth. Chicago Public Schools filed an amicus brief in the case, which is still in court.

See “CPS mulling support for Urban League lawsuit,” Catalyst November 2008

Next


In 2010, Springfield set the “foundation amount” of state aid to schools at $6119 per pupil. But when federal stimulus funds ran out, so too did the additional money that had flowed to schools–once again hitting the poorest districts hardest.

Gov. Rauner recently unveiled a proposal that would add $55 million to K-12 spending and fully fund the foundation level for the first time since 2011. But due to declining enrollment, Chicago Public Schools would be hit with a $74 million cut. (Without the additional funds, CPS would lose $134 million.) Rauner’s proposal does not make any changes to the way the state funds schools.

Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), have proposed more radical changes. Senate Bill 231, the latest version of Manar’s proposal, would make two big changes statewide: give more state money to districts with less property wealth, and collapse most of the state’s money into one weighted formula similar to student-based budgeting. For Chicago, Manar’s bill would swap the block grant in place since 1997 for state money to fund CPS teacher pensions. Last week the bill made it out of committee and will be voted on by the Senate later this session. But like Manar’s earlier bills, this one is likely to die in the House.

Two proposals that would require constitutional amendments are also in play: House Speaker Michael Madigan’s bid to change the language around education funding, and a graduated income tax proposal sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie). The current Illinois Constitution bans a graduated income tax. Though the income tax bill is not school-specific, most experts agree school funding won’t be fixed without new revenue. “That’s our best hope,” said Rod Estvan, education policy analyst for Access Living. But he’s not optimistic. “It didn’t happen when we had a bigger Democratic majority than we have now.”

Though no one can agree on the details of how to get there, most everyone agrees on the big-picture goal. As Stand for Children’s Jessica Handy put it, “We need more money in the system, no doubt about it, and we need a system that drives that money where it needs to go.”

See “Illinois education funding agreement gets initial OK,” Education Week April 2016, and “A graduated income tax could put Illinois in the clear,” The Chicago Reporter April 2016.

  • palosparkbob

    Interesting. Not a single mention that Chicago Public Schools are currently spending over $15,000 per pupil, more than “rich” unit school districts in Naperville 203 and 204, and the fact that according to the NEAs latest “Rankings and Estimates” Report Illinois spends about 18% per pupil above the national average with results far beneath those dedicated resources according to the NAEP test results. They also don’t care to mention that despite spending levels that put the Illinois spending per pupil between 17th and 15th every year, teachers in Illinois have salaries ranked a disproportionate 12th nationally. Quite clearly, any honest observer understands that more money is not the answer to the problems in Illinois education, the way the resources are misspent is the problem. When o when will SOME organization purporting to be protectors of the children actually tell the truth about the funding issues in Illinois education, and demand accountability in student outcomes for the overspending in K-12 education in Illinois. I guess you can’t serve the interests of the all powerful teacher unions and the children at the same time, so they abandon the children.
    One more thing. It’s been established in case law for many years that the state has met it’s responsibility for the “primary responsibility for financing education” by enacting statutes that empower public schools to levy real estate taxes. Since all school real estate taxes are able to be levied from state statute, all real estate tax collections are “from the state”. This has been held to mean that through state statutory taxes and direct state grants, the “state of Illinois” contributes more than 70% of all school funding, MORE than meeting the requirements of the state constitution. Funny that the author chose not to mention this, huh?

    • Christopher Ball

      Rankings cannot be used to compare proportionality because they are ordinal, not cardinal, values. And the $ is not levied by the state but by localities, so some overspend and many underspend based on available local real property wealth.

      If the state paid the greater share of education spending, then localities could cut property taxes. And Lisle CUSD spends over $18.8k operationally per student.

      Operational spending does _not_ include pension and capital costs.

  • Concerned Parent

    Strike or not, Claypool was going to have to close schools early anyway due to CPS’ physical mismanagement.

  • Concerned Parent

    Rahm, Claypool and Jackson could have waited until the Principal Association election was OVER before they removed him. The Boards policy on Internal Accounts is confusing and conter-intuitive. To use the term’ mis-handling funds’ is a huge stretch.
    Further proof that this is a set up so these three can rule over principals with their iron fist.