A report from a group that promoted a new school funding formula said the formula worked as advertised the first year by directing the most new school money to districts most in need.
The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability said that more than 89 percent of the new education money in last year’s state budget went to districts designated as Tier 1 schools – those that were furthest away from their adequacy targets.
Another nearly 10 percent went to districts designated as Tier 2, which are considered slightly better off financially and slightly closer to meeting adequacy targets. The CTBA report said only about .10 percent of the new money included in the 2018 fiscal year budget went to the state’s wealthiest districts.
“In other words, in its first year, the [new formula] has begun to reverse Illinois’ ignoble tradition of inequitably funding public education,” the report said. “However, there is much work to be done.”
The report said that 83 percent of the state’s 707 school districts remain below their adequacy levels, something the new formula is intended to eventually eliminate.
In last year’s state budget, an additional $366 million that was to be distributed under the new formula was added to funding for K-12 schools. Under the agreement reached to implement the new formula, no school district got less money than it did before the new formula took effect.
The Illinois Association of School Administrators said the report mirrors what it has been hearing from school district leaders.
“We just had our annual conference and the mood in the room was palpably different from previous years, and a lot of that had to do with school funding,” said IASA spokesman Jason Nevel. “Districts are no longer in cost-cutting modes. The funding formula is absolutely making a difference.”
Nevel said the association is hearing of districts lowering classroom sizes, hiring interventionists to provide more classroom support and starting STEM labs in schools.
The association is posting stories from superintendents on its website that discuss the effect the new formula has had on their districts. Nokomis Superintendent Scott Doerr said the district had to make $450,000 in cuts and operate on modest budgets, but has been able to start reversing that with money from the new formula. The district has been able to hire an elementary guidance counselor and teacher, and buy new textbooks and Google Chromebooks.
Staunton Superintendent Dan Cox said the district has been able to hire an interventionist to help students who need extra help in language and math. The district also was able to reduce class sizes and hire a part-time counselor.
CBTA Executive Director Ralph Martire, who lobbied for the new formula, acknowledged reaching the goal of adequate funding for all schools is still years away. When the formula was adopted, it was estimated the state would have to increase funding for K-12 education by $7.7 billion over many years to reach the goal of the new formula. Between last year’s budget and this year’s, about $660 million has been allocated.
“We’re a long way away,” Martire said. “Dealing with the state’s long-term structural fiscal problems is crucial if Illinois is going to be serious about fully funding [the new formula].”
Moreover, Martire said it can take several years for schools to show better results from the additional spending, something that might not play well with impatient voters and politicians.
“You can’t overcome years of neglect with 1 year’s worth of a little bit of the money toward what you actually need,” Martire said.
At the same time, the formula is written into state law, Martire said, which should give parents and voters something by which to judge the fiscal responsibility of their schools.
“Now we have in statute what the best practices are,” Martire said. “Voters can hold districts accountable to school districts. It creates a whole new level of transparency.”