CARBONDALE – For those with questions about the state's new school funding legislation, there will be a conference on March 10 with answers.
The Illinois School Funding Fairness Conference was planned by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute to look at a recent report from the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission. It will be held in the student center at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and is free to attend, but all attendees must register by March 2.
“Basically what we have done is we have invited some of the key people who have been working on the legislation that is going to be introduced on this from both sides of the aisle,” said Institute interim director, Jak Tichener.
“We have also invited Gov. Rauner’s education secretary Beth Purvis to be a part of the discussion," Tichener said. "These are the people who have actually sat in on the 75 hours of meetings who know this thing backwards and forwards. We are also bringing in speakers who can basically set the tone for a comparison for how Illinois rates against other states in terms of what it spends on schools.”
Tichener said that there have been other committees set up in previous administrations to examine how to solve the inequity in funding for public schools. He explained that the school system in Illinois has been over-reliant on property taxes to cover education costs, which has created the inequity between districts.
“For example, districts with low property tax bases actually struggle very hard to provide the bare minimum of per-pupil funding for students while wealthier districts in the state can provide upwards of $25,000 or more per year for students,” he said.
The bipartisan commission was set up last year by Gov. Bruce Rauner and published its report on Feb. 1.
“What it did was basically recommend that Illinois adopt what is called an evidence-based model for school funding,” Tichener said. “The evidence-based model basically has a little over two dozen targets and sets of criteria that would determine how much money could go to different school districts.”
He said that new funding would first go to those schools that were the furthest away from their adequacy targets as those have been the most vulnerable.
“It would basically try to address inequity within districts, not just among districts, and also try to ensure all public school children, including those who attend the charter schools, receive equitable treatment.”
Tichener said there will also be experts on school tax policies and evidence-based models for school funding, as well as a panel discussions with lawmakers.
“Later, as we close out the day we actually have a workshop with a series of school superintendents from southern Illinois who kind of go through the process on how they would go about their first year drafting a budget using this evidence-based model.”
He said they were hoping school administrators and staff would attend as well as members of the public. The conference will count for 5.0 Professional Development Hours for teachers and school administrators. It will also count as 5.0 CEUs for social workers or licensed counselors.
Tichener said it “will be a great opportunity for people to ask the folks who have a direct role in drafting the legislation – what is in it and how the thing is supposed to work.”
The event will be free to attend and a complimentary continental breakfast will be available. It will be held at the SIU Carbondale Student Center from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.