Schools are set to receive payment from the state in just three days, but that can’t happen until the Illinois legislature approves a new evidence-based funding model.
Lawmakers have several choices: First there’s Senate Bill 1, crafted by Democrats and approved by both legislative chambers. Then there’s Senate Bill 1 as re-envisioned by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who last week used his veto pen to carve out big chunks of the Democrats’ plan, and add some novel flourishes of his own.
Before either of these can happen, lawmakers will wait for spreadsheets to be produced showing exactly how much money school districts will supposedly receive under each plan. That could happen as soon as Monday.
But spreadsheets are the school funding equivalent of Cliff Notes, a shortcut that skips nuances that might show up on the test. That’s especially true with this new funding model. It has built-in recalibration mechanisms to annually rebalance what each district needs to achieve ADEQUACY against its CAPACITY to bear that cost.
Take, for example, student enrollment.
“Under SB1, if you lose student population, you’ll get less money from the new state distribution, because your adequacy target will be reduced. It’s not as if the formula ignores it," said Ralph Martire, director of the bipartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.
Martire has been working on this school funding model since 2010.
“But, if you’re below adequacy, you still get more money than you got the prior year, so you can move towards adequacy. That’s the beauty of how SB1 works. The math actually accommodates all situations. Student population growth or loss.”
This particular feature got the axe under Rauner’s veto. He would cut dollars for schools with declining enrollments, even if they’re already underfunded.
The prime example of such a district is Chicago Public Schools. CPS appears to have inspired several of the governor’s changes, like the one involving special development programs called tax increment financing, or TIFs. Cities and counties create TIF districts encourage development by suspending tax rates for a set period of time.
State Sen. Jason Barickman, a Republican from Bloomington, is assigned by the governor to work on a compromise.
“In our negotiations, the discussion about TIFs, specifically, have centered around whether we could make prospective TIF districts. In other words, TIF districts that don’t exist today, but are set up in the future," said Barickman.
But Rauner’s veto leapfrogs his own negotiating team and recalculates how much property tax each school district can raise by simply pretending they can access full property values, like TIF restrictions don’t exist.
Barickman—who has filed multiple school funding plans—said he didn’t see the governor’s veto until it was made public.
“I’m a Republican legislator. I’m certainly not the governor," Barickman said.
Rauner also slashed a $200 million dollar block grant from CPS, deleted a provision that would adjust for inflation, and is pushing for a new program that would create tax breaks for middle-income families to send their children to private schools—a plan favored by the Chicago archdiocese. These changes would hurt districts beyond CPS.
State Sen. Andy Manar, the Bunker Hill Democrat who proposed Senate Bill 1, summarizes Rauner’s measures as an attack on public schools.
“This thing is not going to lead to greater equity; it’s not going to lead to adequacy. It is a manipulation of the law to divest the state from public education over time. That’s what it is," Manar said.
This game may drag on a while longer. It seems there won’t be enough lawmakers in town to take up business until next week.
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