School funding agreement brings equity – 
at a high price

by Beth Camplain | Sep 08, 2017
This agreement comes at a high price. But for the first time since 1997, Illinois will begin to move away from its archaic, inequitable school funding system.
After defying Governor Rauner to pass a bipartisan budget in July, lawmakers convened a special session in August to finish their work and pass a new evidence-based funding formula for school funding.

From SB1 to SB1947
To that end, both chambers passed Senate Bill 1 in early August. IFT strongly supported SB1, which would have benefited every district in the state and ensured that all students – regardless of zip code – received equitable funding and a high-quality education.
Rauner vetoed and rewrote significant portions of SB1, falsely claiming it was a “Chicago bailout” and pitting districts statewide against one another. The Senate overrode his veto, but soon after, House and Senate leaders met with the governor to work on a compromise.

Late last month, they announced it in the form of Senate Bill 1947.

Passing the agreement was no easy task. It was initially rejected in the House, only to be approved on a second attempt after a vote to override the governor’s veto of SB1 failed. The Senate concurred and passed SB1947 the following day. The governor signed the bill into law on August 31.

The good news
The evidence-based model of school funding, strongly supported by the IFT and originally contained in SB 1, remains largely intact in this measure. The model looks at many critical regional factors before establishing how much money each school district needs to educate their students well. Then it determines each district’s ability to provide those funds. The difference between the two is the amount the state must provide to close the funding gap. This equitable distribution of resources is what our union and other education advocates have long fought for.

The bad news
Despite its desirable components, some harmful changes in the agreement forced the IFT to oppose it.

The most objectionable aspect of the bill is a voucher-style program which allows businesses and wealthy individuals to claim a tax credit for donations to private school scholarship funds. The program will cost $75 million per year over the next five years and rob public schools of students and resources.

In his statement after the legislation passed, IFT President Dan Montgomery said:
“Tonight, state legislators moved Illinois closer to doing what we have needed to do for decades – treat our poorest students and communities fairly. Unfortunately, it came at a very disappointing cost. Governor Rauner capitalized on the crisis he created when he vetoed the original bill and used it as leverage for private school tax credits that benefit the wealthy while working families continue to struggle.”
The bill also includes “mandate relief,” which permits school districts to hire outside parties to provide driver education services — without seeking a waiver from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE). (A public hearing and school board approval are required.) And SB1947 reduces the current physical education requirement, allowing districts to offer PE just three days per week instead of five. Some students may opt out of PE entirely if they participate in interscholastic or extracurricular sports.

Several organizations joined with the IFT to oppose the legislation, including the Illinois Education Association (IEA), School Management Alliance, League of Women Voters, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

In lieu of SB1947, the IFT strongly urged lawmakers to override the governor’s veto of SB1, or to pass a compromise bill that did not contain tax credits and mandate relief.

In the end
This agreement comes at a high price. But for the first time since 1997, Illinois will begin to move away from its archaic, inequitable school funding system and towards one that ensures every district in the state will receive appropriate support.
“I believe we’re now on a better path toward equity and adequacy, and we must move forward in our classrooms and communities,” concluded Montgomery. “But it’s clearer than ever that this governor does not prioritize public schools, and we must fight for one who does in 2018.”