The question of how to fund Illinois schools has become one of the most urgent — yet complicated —issues facing lawmakers.
Last night, as a panel discussed the two proposals pending in the Senate, those two facts were reiterated again and again. The meeting adjourned around 9 pm, after almost three hours of discussion of the bills sponsored by Senators Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington). They agree on the same basic plan, but disagree on how to ensure that no district loses money.
Manar's plan aims to hold all districts "harmless," ensuring they get at least as much state funding next year as they received in fiscal year 2017. Barickman's plan mirrors that concept, with the exception of Chicago Public Schools.
But testimony at the hearing revealed a mistake in the spreadsheet Barickman distributed last week showing outcomes for each district. Jennifer Garrison, superintendent of Sandoval schools, shared a letter from North Berwyn schools superintendent Carmen Ayala, stating that Barickman's plan (Senate Bill 1124) would cost North Berwyn more than $500,000. That result appears to run counter to the overall goal of both plans — to replace the state's infamously inequitable school funding structure with a formula that helps poorer districts. The student body at North Berwyn is 87 percent low-income, and more than a quarter of the students are English language learners.
“So how is she a ‘loser’ under SB 1124?" Garrison asked. "So it’s larger than just CPS. So the transparency with the numbers that we’ve talked about is very important as a next step as we continue these conversations.”
Number crunchers for three different organizations said this result occurred because one column in Barickman’s spreadsheet is mislabeled to suggest it contains the total amount each district received for fiscal year 2017. Instead, it contains a lower amount (by omitting the "equity grant" that was contained in the 2016 stop-gap measure) and consequently makes the aid offered by the bill look like an increase. This glitch could affect other districts as well.
Despite this math problem, the tone of the hearing was calm, cordial and cooperative. Lawmakers went out of their way to compliment each other and express appreciation to senators who have participated in hours of tedious meetings. Members of both parties promised to continue the conversation to resolve differences between the two bills.
This hearing was subject matter only, so no vote was taken.
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