Members of an Illinois senate committee on school funding are saying – and hearing – some interesting things.
According to GOP senator Dave Luechtefeld, of Okawville, the state aid formula has morphed into something that it
wasn’t intended to be and that many times he has found that it can be political.
Justin Silverstein, who works for a school finance consulting firm said that looking at the issues is a big step, and that re-writing school finance formulas should be considered every decade or so.
Silverstein gave a preview of his firm’s presentation to senators. The Illinois State Board of Education hears it today in Bloomington.
Reviewing that presentation, the chairman of the committee, state Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), got right to the point, quoting the report as concluding the Illinois school finance system is inequitable for both students and taxpayers.
ISBE member Curt Bradshaw pointed out that depending on where a student lives, he or she is the beneficiary of anywhere from $6,000 to $25,000 in per-pupil spending, and that student’s parent could pay between two and fifteen percent of their home’s assessed valuation in taxes.
One of the biggest sticking points of the educational funding debate, explains Luechtefeld, is the marked shift away from foundational level grants, originally intended to equalize funding for schools, and an increased usage of poverty grants which largely benefit Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Over the last decade, poverty grants funding has increased from $300 million to $1.8 billion. Luechtefeld, a 30-year educator, pointed out that while only 18 percent of the state’s students attend CPS, they account for 48 percent of all state poverty grants.
“The original intent of the General State Aid formula was to provide a base level of funding for all students despite where they reside. It’s a concern to see that the state has shifted away from that system, while more and more state dollars are being funneled into grants that benefit a small percentage of the state’s total student population,” Luechtefeld said. “Poverty is poverty, right? So with that in mind shouldn’t an economically-disadvantaged student in southern Illinois be afforded the same educational funding levels as a similar student in another part of the state?”
Poverty grants vary from school district to school district; however, some metropolitan schools receive nearly 8.5 times what some downstate schools get. CPS poverty grant students qualify for $3,000 in funds versus some downstate schools that only receive $355 per pupil.
Poverty in Illinois is not defined by census data; instead, the poverty formula is determined by the Department of Human Services. The State Board of Education estimated that using that formula costs taxpayers upwards of $1.6 billion more per year more than if the state used census data.
“This figure comes from the state’s inflated poverty numbers. The state’s high determination of poverty, coupled with the growing emphasis on funding education using poverty grants, means some northeastern schools are receiving a disproportionate amount of state funds based on an arbitrary funding method with little oversight during the General Assembly’s appropriations period,” said Luechtefeld.