Education funding reform, one of the 98th General Assembly’s hot-button issues, has resurfaced under new legislation in the 99th. Senate Bill 1, a reintroduction of similar legislation known as Senate Bill 16, is raising concerns among lawmakers.
As currently written, Senate Bill 1 advances an unbalanced redistribution of scarce education resources, pitting school districts against each other. Though lawmakers acknowledge the need to reform Illinois’ school funding formula, many voice concerns about any legislation that simply shifts current disparities and continues to create “winners” and “losers” among Illinois schools.
Concerns have been raised that some provisions of the bill may be redundant or ineffective, such as the inclusion of an adequacy study that is already conducted by the Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB) every two years. Senate Bill 1 also includes a regional cost factor to account for different costs of living throughout the State, an idea that was previously rejected by the Education Funding Advisory Committee (EFAC) in 2014.
Additionally, the legislation alters how poverty would be calculated, reverting back to use of the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) low-income counts to calculate poverty (generally students at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level). This formula has proven to produce larger, potentially unsustainable poverty counts. Under the provisions of Senate Bill 16, poverty was based on free and reduced lunch counts (generally students at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level).
Because these tweaks come with a price tag, the sponsor, has requested a spending increase of $500 million to be associated with the changes made in the legislation.
In 2013, the bipartisan EFAC was created to study Illinois’ education funding formula and develop solutions to improve the disparity in funding between different areas of the state. The report that resulted from the committee led to partisan legislation (Senate Bill 16) that did not address specific concerns raised by Republicans, like fully eliminating the Chicago Block Grant or unfunded mandate relief. It seems that, once again, these concerns have gone unaddressed in Senate Bill 1.