School Funding Reform-The Debate Is Not Over

July 3, 2014
[By: Sen. Kyle McCarter]

One of the big issues left unresolved during the spring legislative session was how the education funding problem should be addressed. The issue certainly received its share of attention but it in the end it was a task left unfinished. As a result, our schools must continue to operate under a funding formula that is woefully inadequate and unfair.

Education Funding Falls Short

The Senate approved a new public education funding formula in Senate Bill 16 during the last week of session but the House never acted on the plan before the spring session ended on May 31.

I voted against SB16 for a number of reasons, but I also believe it could be used as a starting point for continued discussions on a plan that could and should gain broad support from legislators, educators and parents.

Unfortunately, SB 16 would continue the practice of the “pro-ration” of school funding dollars, meaning fewer dollars for our schools; it would establish “winner” and “loser” school districts, meaning some schools would benefit while others would be harmed; it still benefits Chicago Public Schools while short-changing downstate schools, continuing one of the major problems with the current funding formula; and there was no relief from costly government mandates, which further burdens our local schools.

We could have acted in a responsible manner and passed a funding reform measure that could have provided immediate help. An alternative I supported was Senate Bill 3664, which would have funded the Foundation Level Grant at 100 percent, with the rest of the money going into the formula. The Foundation Level Grant is a key part of the funding formula. It was designed to ensure that every school district in the state was provided with a base level of funding per student. However, at the start of the 2000s, Foundation Level Grants for schools accounted for 88% of the General State Aid Formula, but by Fiscal Year 2012, the Foundation Level had fallen to just 53% of the Formula.

Full funding for the Grants would have done the same for my school districts as Senate Bill 16. It would have provided them with the money they deserve and need now to operate without penalizing other schools throughout the state, unlike the funding provisions of SB 16.

The debate over education funding reform is not over. Hopefully, we will see an attempt at a real fair and honest plan during the fall Veto Session. I will continue to be involved on behalf of our schools and what’s in the best interest of our students.