Senate advances school funding bill

Revised measure's effect on individual area districts is unclear

SPRINGFIELD — Legislation aimed at changing the way Ilinois public schools are funded cleared the Ilinois Senate on Tuesday, but likely will face a more hostile House.

SB 16, sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, was approved, 32-19. Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, voted for the measure, but Republican Sens. Chapin Rose of Mahomet, Dale Righter of Mattoon and Jason Barickman and Bill Brady, both of Bloomington, voted against it.

Under projections released earlier this month by the State Board of Elections, most school districts in East Central Illinois would benefit from the revision. Danville would gain about $5 million and Urbana would receive about $4 million more, but the Champaign Unit 4 district would lose about $770,000. Suburban school districts would be the biggest losers of state aid.

But the original bill has been amended, and it was unclear Tuesday what effect it would have on individual districts.

For the most part, Republicans opposed the bill, although some, including Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont, voted present.

Manar said that under his bill 92 percent of all state education funding would be based on financial need, so that poor districts would see greater funding.

"Poverty's reach is far and it's wide in our state, and we don't give our public schools the resources necessary to attack that problem," he said.

But Republicans asserted either that the legislation needed more work, or that it still would direct an inordinate amount of state funds to the Chicago Public Schools.

Righter acknowledged that the school districts in his Senate district "almost uniformly would get more money" under Manar's bill.

But he said the per-pupil foundation level, now $6,119, could be dropped by about $1,000 by the State Board of Education under the law.

Barickman, who also served on a school funding advisory committee with Manar, said he believed the legislation needed more work.

"If our votes are determined by the wins and losses for our district, then we are not doing our job for all the people of this great state," he said. "The question is, have we fixed the problem? The disproportionate funding continues and appears to even further exacerbate our funding problem today."

But Democrats said the school funding formula, which has been unchanged for 17 years, couldn't wait any longer for revision.

Republicans also noted that a provision that had been included in SB 16 last week — allowing school districts to get some relief from certain state mandates — had been removed.

"It's clear that this is a topic that is deserving of more discussion, but I don't believe it belongs in this," Manar said of SB 16.

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