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Legislation calls for funding reform, D127 will take a loss

Illinois Funding Reform Act:

Legislation calls for funding reform, D127 will take a loss

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Imagine District 127 taking an annual loss of millions of dollars annualy. This is a very real possibility that may occur in the near future. In Springfield, there is a series of bills that calls for reform regarding how our schools are funded and how teachers are paid.

Many legislatures and educatures alike agree is a problem in the way our schools are currently being funded: the school districts with residents that have higher property taxes, such as District 38 (Kenilworth), District 72 (Rondout) and District 115 (Lake Forest) are receiving an abundance of money to spend. On the other hand, school districts with residents that have lower property taxes, such as District 116 (Round Lake) and Unit District 60 (Waukegan), are not receiving nearly as much funding to spend on students. While District 127 is in the wealthier half of Illinois schools, schools in D116 and D60 do not share this privilege.

“I have believed for a very long time that public school funding is inequitable,” said Illinois Senator Melinda Bush in an email. “Your zip code should not dictate the quality of your education. All we have to do is look around Lake County to see the disparity. With today’s funding system, the wealthier your community, the better the public education – and that’s just wrong.”

The Illinois Funding Reform Bill (formely known as SB16, now rewrittten and redubbed as SB1) calls for a reform in the way our schools are funded in the state of Illinois. However, there is a continuing problem across both the House and Senate: where are they going to get the money, and how they are going to distribute it?

To start, SB1 calls for adequacy (how much funding is needed) and equity (how evenly funds are spread). Defining adequacy required the state to determine a proper dollar amount per student that would allow a school to succeed. The Illinois Senate set this number at $8,400 per student. To put this amount in perspective, D127 currently spends $16,000 per student, according to D127 Superintendent Catherine Finger.  Students in areas with high property taxes, such as D72, are getting as high as $28,500 dollars per student (according to illinoisreportcards.com).

It was a little more complicated to determine equitable funding. It required a funding formula to determine whether each school district receives a fair amount of funding.

“[Funding school districts] just by the virtue of the zip code is not fair,” said Finger. “My job is to ensure that every one of my [students] has everything they need, as well as students in other school districts.”

Finger has been actively involved in the Illinois General Assembly to ensure that SB1 is fairly crafted to the needs of every school district.

“I am all for the idea of equity,” said Finger. “[But] not if you’re taking it away from my [students]. I have to be concerned for the kids in my district.”

The Illinois General Assembly has changed the bill and accepted and amended it three times out of six proposed amendments. The amendments mainly concerned the amount of adequate funding and how the state is going to ensure equity. However, the SB16 action committee argued that the Illinois General Assembly did not have the evidence to back up their decisions.

“You have to decide and give a very clear answer on what it’s going to be and why,” said Finger.

After two years of debate and amendments, the General Assembly concluded that adequacy for all school districts would require an extra $4 billion in addition to money collected from property taxes. As Illinois is currently in a large amount of debt, the General Assembly shifted SB16’s focus to provide equity, but not adequacy. In the process, the bill was rewritten, and re-named SB1.

The new version of the bill defines “new adequacy” as adequate funds that will come from equity. This essentially calls for the redistribution of funds throughout the state to make sure that all funds in every district are equal. This means that every school district in the state would be forced to fund lesser equitable districts to provide adequacy.

“The state created a giant formula to get high-spending school districts to give money to low-spending districts,” said Finger. “I am all for it, but don’t do it at the expense of my district.”

The overall cost of SB16 would cause D127 lose $420,000 per year. According to Finger, that is acceptable. However, even though the total cost is not that amount and there are multiple funding legistlations in the works.

SB16 also requires certain districts to cut off their federal funding. According to Finger, although D127 may not rely heavily on federal funds, but they make a big impact on other school districts. For example, D116 would gain $5 million from SB1, but would be forced to give up $2 million of the federal funds it currently receives. In addition, SB1 calls for a reform to pensions and would shift the cost to school districts. D127 would lose $1.4 million per year in addition to the $420,000.

“You cannot continue to make changes unless you have a hold on these figures,” said Finger.

In response to reform legislation such as SB1, a group of education professionals crafted what they call Vision 20/20. According to Associate Superintendent Renee Zoladz, Vision 20/20 ensures quality education through the state.

“There has been a lot of blame as to whose fault it is,” said Zoladz. “We have to be proactive and have the proper vision for our district.”

Vision 20/20 has four basic pillars in its mission: highly effective educators, 21st century learning to all pupils, shared accountability and collaboration, and adequate and equitable funding. According to Zoladz, the mission of Vision 20/20 is to reduce state mandates by requesting more funds in an effort to ensure that educators are collaborating and giving the highest quality learning to all areas.

As of now, none of the reform legislation discussed has passed, and Vision 20/20 will be further discussed at the Alliance Leadership Conference in Springfield on Feb. 17-18.

“While the bill is worked on and amendments made, I will continue to advocate for education funding levels that provide a quality education for every student in Illinois,” said Bush.

“I am superintendent of D127, and I am involved in Springfield with these discussions,” said Finger. “It’s cool and scary. What if we woke up one day with $5 million in the hole? Our lawmakers are good men who want to do the right things, but I won’t allow it to happen at the expense of Grayslake.”

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Legislation calls for funding reform, D127 will take a loss