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Push Continues For School Funding Overhaul

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  As students across Illinois begin the new school year their schools are using funds that rely heavily on property tax wealth. But supporters of a new plan say now is the time to change that.

Illinois' school funding formula works like this: school districts collect property taxes from their residents, then depending on how property-wealthy or property-poor an area is, the state pitches in its share. That frequently means poorer districts stay poor because the state can't give enough, and wealthier districts remain wealthy.

But a proposal that passed the Illinois Senate in May would distribute state funding based on poverty in a given school district. Supporters say that would lessen the blow to poorer schools when the state prorates what it gives to schools, like it's done for the last few years.

Springfield schools would see a projected $2.5 million dollar increase annually. Superintendent Jennifer Gill says that would be a welcome change after the district was forced to cut $10 million from its budget in the last two years alone.

"We're to the place now where any additional cuts are going to mean getting very deep into the bone — cutting programs, cutting teachers and we don't want to see that happen," she said.

Gill says she feels for the districts that would see a decrease in state aid under the plan, but she says it's the only way to bring parity to the system.

A coalition of local churches, unions and community groups is calling for the passage of Senate Bill 16. Shelley Heideman, executive director of Faith Coalition for the Common Good, says the plan would drastically improve conditions at schools with high rates of poverty.

"...and to stop that pipeline from schoolhouse to jailhouse. I mean, that's the bottom line," she said. "In a small way, it's a way to stop systemic racism as we look at how schools are funded."

Opponents to the plan say it's unfair to take state funding away from wealthier schools, especially considering the state funding comes from all income taxpayers in Illinois.

The sponsor of the legislation, Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), says he'll keep pushing for SB 16's passage, even now that it's gone to the House.

Hannah covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio. She's been dedicated to the statehouse beat since interning at NPR Illinois in 2014, with subsequent stops at outlets including WILL-AM/FM, Law360, The Daily Line and a temporary stint at political blog Capitol Fax before returning to the station in 2020.
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