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ISBE Seeks More Funds In Pursuit Of Equity

Illinois State Board of Education

The Illinois State Board of Education yesterday approved a budget request seeking $9.6 billion dollars in state funds, most of which will go to the state’s “evidence-based funding” model, designed to bring all school districts up to adequate funding.

Three years ago, Illinois changed its school funding structure to try to fix the extreme inequities. That fix established a formula that first measures how much each school district needs to achieve adequacy, and lawmakers promised to appropriate at least $350 million per year toward that goal.

But even though they’ve made good on that pledge, curing those inequities remains a distant goal.

Robert Wolfe, the agency's chief financial officer, told board members that some districts still have only half the money they need, while others have almost triple.

"We do have a range of adequacy throughout the state of 51 percent all the way to 269 percent," he said. 

Despite a long-fought battle to reform Illinois' school funding formula, more than 75 percent of districts across the state still lack adequate funding. 

"Eight out of 10 Illinois students are in districts that are below 90 percent adequacy,” Wolfe told the board. “And it's not a regional issue. These students in districts below adequacy of 90 percent, they reside in 100 of the 102 counties throughout the state."

The one constant among all 852 districts: Students have to take the same standardized tests. 

"Of course, the expectations for those [inadequately funded] districts are the same as our 100 percent adequacy-funded districts," Wolfe said.

For fiscal year 2021, ISBE is asking lawmakers to appropriate  $510 million toward equitable funding. That's an increase of $150 million over last year. If approved, it will increase funding in the state's poorest districts by an average of $109 per child.

After a long career in newspapers (Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News, Anchorage Daily News, Illinois Times), Dusty returned to school to get a master's degree in multimedia journalism. She began work as Education Desk reporter at NPR Illinois in September 2014.
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