School funding bill may not get vote this session

School funding bill may not get vote this session

SPRINGFIELD — A bill to shift school funding significantly in Illinois isn't in its final form and may not be ready in time for passage before the Legislature adjourns later this month, state senators said Friday.

The legislation, SB 16, sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, would make major shifts in state funding to several area school districts, according to an analysis by the State Board of Education.

The Danville and Urbana school districts would gain $5.1 million and $4.1 million respectively, according to the analysis, while the Champaign school district would lose about $777,000, compared with state aid payments for the year that ended June 30, 2013.

But lawmakers cautioned that the bill is still being revised, and that there is significant opposition from legislators whose school districts — particularly in the Chicago suburbs — would see much less state funding under the measure.

"This is not so much a partisan issue as it is an issue that deals with the effect of the bill. There are going to be several Democrats who vote against the bill, without question," Manar said Friday.

"Too often legislators have relied on printouts to make major public policy decisions. That is what has led us to this crisis point in school funding," Manar said. "And this is a difficult choice that I'm going to ask my colleagues to make, but it is one we have to move forward on in some way.

"No one is defending the status quo. They would be foolish to do that. It's unpredictable, it's unreliable, it drives money to places that have resources and takes money from places that don't."

But political considerations will play into legislators' votes, said Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.

"The group or region of the state that pays the bill for this reallocation is the collar counties. They're getting hammered in this bill," Righter said. "My Senate district, according to the numbers, nets out as a $10 million winner. My Republican colleague, Matt Murphy (from Palatine), has one school district alone that loses $13 million. And there are lots of Democrats who are in the same boat as Senator Murphy. Their Senate districts and their school districts get spanked pretty hard by this."

But Manar and Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, said the legislation is a chance to equalize state funding so that poorer districts get a larger share of state funding.

"For 17 years more and more people have realized that something needs to change," Frerichs said. "People may be scared of change but no one is really happy with the current system or thinks the current system is fair. I think if we do something that is more equitable throughout the state, and which lifts up the standards of education for hundreds of thousands of students throughout the state then I think that is something everyone benefits from. Some people might get less money but my hope is that my colleagues are looking at the best interest of the whole state on this."

Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said he has many questions about the legislation, is skeptical of the projected state aid payments presented by the State Board of Education and is concerned that Chicago Public Schools still will benefit disproportionately.

"But let's not throw cold water on the conversation. This is a very tough, very difficult but a very important conversation to have," Rose said. "There are documented disparities in K-12 funding, Anyone who looks at it says that we've got to find a better way. This is spurring the conversation on but I don't think it's ready for prime time. I don't get the sense that this will happen before the end of May."

Manar, however, said that's still his goal: to overhaul the state's school funding formula before May 30, when the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn.

"We've got one more amendment to present next week (at the Senate Executive Committee)," he said. "All of these amendments have been reflective of suggested changes we've seen from superintendents and legislators, what I would describe as constructive criticism."

He said the amendment would change the projected state aid distribution "but not by much."

Still, lawmakers questioned the reliability of the funding projections. Even Frerichs said he was concerned about the big changes between Champaign and Urbana school districts.

"It does not make sense to me but I haven't talked to the people at the State Board of Education who put these together," he said. "But I don't think these are the numbers that are going to be realized. I think they will be different."

Rose noted that "the four Ms" in his district have significantly different outcomes under Manar's bill.

"Take my four Ms. They're all the same — Mt. Zion, Maroa-Forsyth, Monticello and Mahomet. These are four communities that are essentially the same. They're suburban, bedroom communities for Decatur and Champaign," he said. "But all things being the same they're not treated the same. Two of them win, and two of them lose. There are a lot of inherent problems here."

According to the projections Monticello would lose $740,300 and Maroa-Forsyth's state aid would drop by $285,000, but Mahomet-Seymour would gain $257,000 and Mt. Zion would get about $104,000 more.

"This is going to take a lot more study and a lot more analysis to see how this shakes out over the next decades," Rose said. "It's a monumental change with profound implications."

Righter urged school officials to be skeptical of the projections.

"Obviously there are people from my district and all across the state who have seen the state board of education's printouts here and they're saying, 'Hey my district is a winner,' and so they're calling and saying you need to get behind this.

"I'm not doing that. One, because this bill keeps changing and, two, because we do not have faith in these numbers. People need to slow down and take a very, very close look at what's going on here."

Righter said he was concerned that Chicago Public Schools would still come out ahead in the bill, even though state board of education projections say it would lose $28 million.

"There is no way that an education funding reform bill is approved by this General Assembly that doesn't pump hundreds of millions of new dollars into the city of Chicago. We all know that," he said.

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