Gov. Bruce Rauner announced the formation of a 25-member commission, and gave them six months to rewrite the state’s school funding formula. State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) is one of 20 lawmakers on the bipartisan, bicameral commission. We asked him for an update on the commission's progress.
For more than a year, Barickman has been pushing a school funding plan known as the evidence-based model. It would fund schools based on a list of 27 factors proven to help students succeed. It’s getting a lot of political support, but there’s one pretty huge catch to the plan: As currently proposed, it would apply only to new dollars. Barickman addressed that and other funding issues in our interview.
“I think any overhaul to the funding formula is likely to require more money. So you have to consider where that money could come from. And certainly it’s easy to talk about -- well, if there’s a grand bargain and there’s a tax increase... there’s a lot of people would say there’s some new dollars. I think that’s a little potentially short-sighted, because we’ve got a mountain of bills and other financial pressures that any tax increase presumably will help address, leaving little to no new dollars available for education.
“I look at it more this way: Since this conversation started three or four years ago, we’ve made significant investments in the education budget. Increases year after year. And the political dynamic in Springfield suggests that there may be more increases to education from wherever. Maybe that means further cuts elsewhere -- I don’t know. I know that we have a governor who continues to say he wants to do more with education, and we have a legislature that has followed that lead, at least over the last two cycles. I think we need to challenge ourselves to look more creatively.
“You know, the governor said early on in this discussion that he doesn’t think any school district should lose funds this year to last -- a hold-harmless provision that’s in essence pure. I’ve disagreed with that notion and said that i think there are school districts who would take less money from the state if they were allowed more flexibility with the resources that they have.”
On the lawsuit filed by the Chicago Urban League, charging that the state's school funding policies are discriminatory:
“Illinois has a history of some lawsuits of our own that have tried to address the education system and I think by and large, those lawsuits have failed. Now recently, the state board evidently is negotiating a seven- or nine-year-old lawsuit that could have a significant impact on us. I don’t think we know enough about the guts of it to say what impact it will have on the formula itself, but what we heard today from the school superintendent is that it would.
"The other component that is equally pressing that wasn’t addressed today is, any lawsuit that is either where the state loses or the state settles, I presume is going to have a dollar amount attached to it. And I don’t know where those dollars are coming from, and I don’t know where those dollars are going, but as a legislator, I’m very suspicious about that. Not that anyone had ill will, but we don’t have a lot of dollars to put anywhere, and so the notion that we’re going to come up with dollars suggests they’re going to have to come from somewhere, and once you figure out where they’re coming from, there’s a question of where they’re going. And those are decisions that I’d like to have more legislative input to than is suggested exists today.”