School Funding Reform



One of the most important issues that the General Assembly dealt with this year was a plan to reform and modernize the system by which the state distributes billions of dollars per year to local school districts.  New funding formulas were created to consider per-pupil spending levels taking into account many factors including number of students in poverty, English language learners, local resources available to local districts and many other factors. The earliest version of the current school funding formula was created in 1927, there were major updates in 1974, and most recently in 1997. These plans were based on a “Foundation Level” of money that the state should send out for each pupil.  Obviously, there have been enormous shifts in population, demographics, technology, educational methods, numbers of districts and local education funding since 20 years ago.


It was time to completely revise the way State money was distributed to each of the 562 school districts in Illinois, not only to reflect all the changes in population, demographics, local tax revenues and etc., but also to properly prioritize funding to those districts with the highest needs and taking into account all the other funding streams flowing to individual districts.


For the last several years, both a bi-partisan, bi-cameral legislative task force, and another similar group headed by Education Secretary Beth Purvis have been meeting throughout the State with educators, school superintendents, education advocates, school reform organizations, teachers unions, legislators, groups specializing in education of English Language Learners and students with disabilities, as well as the general public to modernize the school funding system.


It was agreed to change from the Foundation Level model to an Evidence Based Model (EBM) where current data are used to analyze regular and special needs of all districts and students, the resources available and design a system to make sure no district would have its State funding cut, but would direct new resources to those with the highest needs.  There was great effort not to set up a system where some districts would become losers so that others could win more, pitting one district or region of the state against others to fight over divvying up resources.


To accomplish this, the General Assembly passed a state budget, which added $350 million in new money to funding elementary and secondary education funding so that the EBM would work. In addition, the budget allocated an additional $50 million for Early Childhood Education, fully funds Bilingual Education, and includes an increase in pupil transportation funding of over $60 million.  Gov. Rauner vetoed all of these increases, along with the entire education and higher ed budgets. However, both the House and Senate in bi-partisan votes overrode his vetoes.


However, distributions of state aid to education are now dependent upon an Evidence Based Model passing both chambers of the legislature and becoming law.  There were several versions of Evidence Based Models introduced and considered.  The 3 versions are SB1124 (Sen. Jason Barickman), SB2214 (Minority Leader Bill Brady), and SB1 (Sen. Andy Manar/Rep. Will Davis). Only 1 has passed both chambers: SB1.


SB1 replaces the old Foundation Level funding system with a new Evidence Based system that will use current data and metrics to evaluate each school district (with special emphasis on districts with high poverty and/or high numbers of English Language Learners).  Districts with the highest needs across the State would receive shares of the new added funding. A top-level panel of educators, school reform advocates, and elected officials will review the data and metrics annually and recommend revisions to the distributions and will review these metrics annually.  Again, no district will get their funding cut under this model; new dollars will be invested to help the students in most need.


With statewide, broad-based bipartisan support, and with adoption of an Evidence Based Model as a pre-requisite for any school district in Illinois to receive its share of State funding, you would assume this would have the Governor’s support.  However, since there are clauses that treat Chicago Public Schools like other school districts in Illinois, the Governor has announced his plan to issue an Amendatory Veto to remove provisions that benefit Chicago.


Rich Miller, editor and publisher of Capitol Fax, summed up the Governor’s strategy succinctly in his July 26 edition:   “Overall, it’s actually a pretty good plan, even though it relies heavily on stoking the flames of regionalism with an unspoken but still clear racial element. The “Chicago bailout” card is about the easiest one to throw in this state, and has been played longer than any of us has been alive”


Sadly, we see our Governor once again trying to divide the state and use dog-whistles to derail school funding.  For 2 years we have seen him using human services and higher education as hostages during his fight to use the state budget to force votes on his other agenda items. Now it appears to be public schools.


The Governor called a Special Session this week on school funding reform. I and our other House and Senate members went to Springfield in hopes that there would be good-faith negotiations with the Governor on solving this crisis and allowing schools to open in a few weeks. On the first day of his Special Session, Rauner declared he was not interested in negotiating or meeting with Democratic Leaders on the bill and simply intended to use his veto power.


Senate President Cullerton (SB1 is still in the Senate and under their control) repeatedly made public and private requests to meet with the Governor to work out issues.  They were ignored, and the Governor actually called those requests “Outrageous”.


So at this point, President Cullerton has announced that upon the conclusion of the Special Sessions on Monday, he will send the bill to the Governor.  The assumption is that Gov. Rauner will issue his Amendatory Veto and send it back to the Senate.  He has 60 days to do so. Before an Amendatory Veto can be considered in either the Senate or House, it must be reviewed for its compliance with the veto powers of the Governor in the State Constitution.  If it is ruled compliant, the Senate would have 15 calendar days to act upon an override of the Governor, and then it would go to the House where the same procedures and schedules would apply.


Yesterday in debate on the House Floor, Republicans brought up their talking point of pension “bailouts” for Chicago as part of their opposition plan mentioned above.  The simple fact is that Chicago and CPS are NOT treated equally now with the other 561 school districts.  In Chicago, the Chicago Board of Education pays the school district (employer’s share) of pension costs from monies from the property tax levy.  In every other Illinois school district, the district or its local taxpayers do not pay the district’s share, it is paid out of state income taxes. So districts outside of Chicago have no cost for their teacher pensions, and Chicago residents are paying twice: once through their property taxes for Chicago schools, and again through their income taxes for every other district in Illinois.


There are 2 equitable ways to fix this, either 1) have the state contribute toward the employer’s share of CPS pension costs and leave every other school district as they are now, or 2) require every other district in Illinois to pick up its employer’s share which would require massive property tax increases for most districts outside of Chicago to cover this new cost.


The other issue brought up was the requirement in the new State Budget that school aid funding could only go out once an Evidence Based Model was adopted.  This was painted by the Republicans as a massive Democrat plot.  However, this idea and this language was actually developed by Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady and written into his budget which was endorsed by the House Republicans and Governor Rauner.   Calling their own idea a Democrat Plot either shows that they are unclear on the concept of “Democrat Plots” or really ought to read their own bills before they announce them publicly.  You can read for yourself here in Sen. Brady’s budget proposal.  It is Section 5 at the top of page 533:


You can read the version of SB1 which will be sent to the Governor here:


As always, I look forward to your comments at, and I will keep you up to date on developments as they unfold.