The effort to overhaul the way Illinois funds public schools has been gaining momentum over the past few years, and yesterday, the latest plan got the green light to be heard by the House of Representatives. Sponsored by State Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood), the plan cleared committee on a 15-1-0 vote, marking the first time in recent history that a school funding plan got bipartisan support.
That's despite the fact that Davis chose not to provide a spreadsheet showing how much money each district would get.
"You see a run for a district and you see what you think are negative numbers or reductions, and it becomes a challenge,” he says.
Several previous efforts at revamping the formula have died when lawmakers focused on “winners and losers.”
Davis says he'll continue to tweak the plan, and provide numbers before calling it for a vote on the House floor, which could happen as early as next week.
The plan Illinois currently uses to distribute money to schools dates back to the 1990s (there's some disagreement about exactly which year). But everybody agrees the formula needs to be changed. This new plan uses the so-called Evidence Based Model, which would use student demographics to calculate how much money each school needs. That figure would be compared to the dollar amount the district could raise using reasonable property taxes, and in the case of a shortfall, the state would fill in the gap.
If it becomes law, no school would lose money, but any progress toward leveling the playing field would require a lot more cash. The EBM would be used solely as the means to distribute appropriations above the current level.
Mike Jacoby, director of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials and one of the architects of the new plan, admits its success hinges on the kindness of lawmakers and the governor.
"If you change the way schools are funded, but you don't put any money in it, and you hold everybody harmless,” Jacoby says, “there's no change."
Proponents say it’s a step toward curing the state's notoriously unequal school funding structure.