State Sen. Andy Manar says the key to fixing Illinois’ broken education funding system is not spending more, but spending smarter.
Speaking on Monday to the editorial board of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, Sen. Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said Illinois’ system for funding education is outdated and has fueled the largest financial gap between school districts of any state. He said a bill he has sponsored will simplify the formula for funding schools and ensure state money is distributed more fairly.
“This (formula now) is based on a world that existed in 1997, which is when the current funding formula was put into place,” Sen. Manar said. “It illustrates that school funding today is the result of kind of a hodgepodge of decision-making over the past 20 years.”
The funding system in place allocates money based on the property wealth of a school district. Poorer districts in theory are to receive more money than wealthy districts, according to an Illinois State Board of Education overview of the program.
The problem, Sen. Manar said, is that for several years, the state has failed to make education payments in full, which has a much larger impact on low-income school districts that don’t generate as much revenue from taxes as wealthier districts.
To illustrate his point, Sen. Manar provided ISBE data showing reductions in per-student spending in different Illinois school districts. In 2015, Winnetka, a wealthy Chicago suburb, saw a decrease of $29 per student. The Carbon-Cliff Barstow district in Rock Island County saw a $767 decrease. East St. Louis saw per-student spending drop $1,092. Wealthier school districts often generate thousands of dollars more per student than low-income districts in local property taxes, further widening the gap.
Sen. Manar said Gov. Bruce Rauner understands the funding system is broken but doesn’t seem to want to decrease funding to more prosperous districts.
“He doesn’t recognize the reality. He says, ‘Well, I don’t want losers.’ Well, there are all kinds of losers today. The system today produces losers,” Sen. Manar said
“It’s a naive view that we can’t change this unless everybody wins,” he said. “When a district is spending twice of what is adequate to educate kids, they can take a little haircut to fix this, in my opinion.”
East Moline School District Superintendent Kristin Humphries, who joined Sen. Manar at the editorial board meeting, said restructuring education funding is more important than increasing the system’s funding.
“I would love to have more money. It doesn’t fix the issue. It does not,” Mr. Humphries said. “We need a weighted, integrated formula that’s based on student need and local ability to pay, and it does have to happen this year.”
The legislation, SB1, is currently a bill in name only. The text and details on how the funding formula will be changed will be added later. Sen. Manar said he has worked with Republicans and Democrats and has seen a lot of support for changing the way districts are funded.
“I think, for the most part, there are still a few detractors, especially in the suburbs in Chicago that say the status quo is OK,” he said.