State Board of Education: Double School Funding Now | WBEZ
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State Board of Education: Double School Funding Now

Updated 5 pm Jan. 18

Citing a clause in the Illinois Constitution that gives state government the primary responsibility for funding public education, the Illinois State Board of Education on Wednesday took an unusually bold vote and unanimously recommended that Illinois nearly double the amount it spends on schools.

“That is what it takes for this state to be adequate,” ISBE Chief Financial Officer Robert Wolfe told board members before the vote. We are still relying upon the property tax system, and not every child is similarly situated.”

The State Board of Education members, all appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, recommended a budget that jumps from $8.2 billion to $15.7 billion in one year. ISBE’s proposal now goes to Rauner for consideration as he crafts his overall state budget. In a state still digging out of a massive financial hole, the proposal is likely to meet stiff resistance or be ignored.

ISBE typically proposes annual budgets with only slight increases. This is the first budget year following a massive overhaul of the state’s school funding formula. That new formula will begin to channel additional state money to needier school districts and to those least able to raise money through local property taxes.

“But the formula alone does not address the deep inequity we see,” State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said in a statement released after the vote. “We now have to fund the formula to create the conditions for every child to thrive.”

Wolfe said some Illinois school districts have less than half the resources required to give students an adequate education. At the other extreme, some districts receive 285 percent of what they need, he said. The state has not published final figures showing how close each school district is to “adequacy” — that’s a target laid out in the state’s new “evidence-based” funding formula.

Wolfe acknowledged that the state overall is expected to receive about 10 times less in new revenue overall than ISBE’s proposed increase just for public education.

Rauner is scheduled to release his budget next month. His office said the state board’s proposal seeks to achieve in a single year what lawmakers and advocates imagined might take 10 years.

State board member and finance committee chairman Kevin Settle denied that ISBE’s vote was purely symbolic. “I think it was a genuine request,” Settle said. “It’s not our job to figure out how to get the money. We’re asking for what it should be.”

Additional money is not the only thing complicating the new school funding formula. 

Last month the governor issued an amendatory veto of legislation related to the formula. Advocates and the State Board of Education have said without that legislation, 178 school districts will see a reduction in funding they’re eligible for. The General Assembly has been in recess; lawmakers reconvene later this month. State education officials have said without quick action on Rauner’s veto, the distribution of school funding across the state could be delayed.

Linda Lutton covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation.

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