SPRINGFIELD – Following the Illinois school funding reform’s recent Senate passage by a healthy margin, State Sens. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and Bill Haine (D-Alton) said they were pleased with the 31-21-3 vote.
As the bill’s main sponsor, Manar, representing Illinois’ 48th Senate District, explained that Senate Bill 231 would weigh each district’s property tax base, its proportion of low-income students, and other needs including special education and ESL before allotting taxpayer dollars to each jurisdiction.
“There should be no issue that unites downstate Democrats and Republicans more than school funding,” said Manar, who added that he spent three years crafting the plan.
“Our current formula is flawed because it’s not based on need. It’s not based on equity. It’s based on ZIP code.”
SB 231 would mandate that state education funding be distributed based on student need while ensuring that no district would receive less state money than it did for the 2015-16 school year.
The bill is expected to help not only the financially strapped Chicago public school system but many other needy districts including the Metro East.
Before the measure was approved, a downstate Democratic caucus, led by state Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton), held a press conference on May 10 in support of the bill.
“Many schools throughout the region have been shortchanged for years,” Haine told the Record. “This funding formula presented by Senator Manar gives us a plan to address that issue. Our students deserve the same resources as any other student throughout the state. The caucus sees this, and that is why we threw our support behind this important legislation.”
Legislators at the press conference expressed optimism, stating that the law could potentially reverse the detrimental outcome created by the state’s “broken” public school funding formula over the past two decades—especially in downstate and outlying rural areas.
“We have been fighting hard this session to ensure our universities remain open, but if our K-12 system isn’t receiving the resources it needs in order to make sure our children are prepared to go on to higher education, we have a problem,” Haine said. “Education is what pushes Illinois forward. We need an adequate funding formula to ensure kids have the basic knowledge and skill set to grow.”
Not everyone was pleased with the results, some decrying the measure as a “bailout” for Chicago public schools.
Republican Sen. Kyle McCarter questioned SB 231’s practicality, saying that whichever formula is chosen, the main issue is whether the state can stand by its promise.
“We are either going to come up with some magical way of forgiving ourselves more debts or we’re backing ourselves into a tax increase,” McCarter said. “Like any business, you would never fix one department and hope that everything else in the company would fix itself. You always look at the entire entity (the budget).”
Manar and Haine both stated with certainty that no schools will lose funding under this plan. Asked how the budget numbers would be impacted, Haine conveyed that constituents would not bear the burden.
“This proposal is about how we spend, not how much we spend," he said, emphasizing that it was a question of reorganization rather than increasing the tax base. “How much we spend is a different debate.”
How would it be paid for?
“The same way we paid for the current education budget; by prioritizing the resources we have,” Haine said. “The governor agreed with us last year in doing this, and I hope he will do it again.”
The bill moved on to the House.