New funding formula helps downstate schools more

2014-05-08T04:01:00Z 2014-05-14T07:57:56Z New funding formula helps downstate schools moreKURT ERICKSON H&R Springfield Bureau Chief Herald-Review.com

SPRINGFIELD – Downstate school districts would see an overall gain in state funding under a sweeping proposal to change how Illinois funds its public schools.

But, in what could pose a major political hurdle, a majority of school districts in the Chicago area would see fewer state dollars, according to a preliminary analysis of the proposal by the Illinois State Board of Education.

The state board's spreadsheet, first reported Wednesday by the Herald & Review Springfield Bureau, provides a first-ever glance of the effects of state Sen. Andy Manar's plan, which is designed to improve the way school funds are distributed.

The Democrat from Bunker Hill told members of a Senate panel the changes highlight how many rural districts have fallen behind since Illinois last altered its method of funding schools in 1997.

The current formula may not be aiding schools that most need it, he said.

The complicated blueprint, based on months of hearings by a bipartisan panel of senators, would require that 92 percent of school funding dollars are distributed to local school districts based on poverty levels. It also attempts to treat state funding for Chicago's massive school system the same as it does for downstate districts.

The data shows school districts with high property values and wealthier families typically losing state funding, while poorer districts gain.

In all, 410 downstate school districts would come out winners, while 165 downstate districts would lose state funding.

The Decatur School District would see a $2.7 million increase. Maroa-Forsyth would see a $285,000 decrease. State funding for Mount Zion schools would rise $104,000.

In Eastern Illinois, Mattoon schools would see a bump of $1.6 million. Charleston schools would see a $465,000 increase. Jasper County schools were among a small number of districts in the region that would lose money.

Chicago public schools would see a loss of about $28.3 million in state aid, while the majority of districts in suburban Chicago also would lose money.

State Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, said voters he represents in Chicago's suburbs pay higher local property taxes and pay more in income taxes to the state, but receive less in return.

"It looks like yet again this is an attempt to reach into suburban pockets to solve other people's problems," Murphy said.

Manar said the changes are designed to end the disparities between school districts.

"This isn't about punishing or rewarding," Manar said.

State Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said many of the schools in his Southern Illinois district would gain under the proposal. He acknowledged it would be a tough vote for lawmakers in areas that were losing state funds.

"It may not end up a Republican-Democrat issue," Luechtefeld said.

The measure won approval in the Senate Executive Committee on a 10-3 vote with Luechtefeld voting "present." He said the overhaul needs more work.

Republicans said the changes might be made more palatable if the state eases back on some of the programs and paperwork it requires of local school districts.

It remains unclear whether the House will take up the proposal if it emerges from the Senate. The plan was developed through a series of hearings in which the House was not involved.

"I think what is important is that we continue to force this conversation on the legislature, force people to talk about it, force the idea that inequity is rampant in the state," Manar said.

Manar will join with former Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican, at a forum today in Decatur to discuss the overhaul.

The 6:30 p.m. event at the Decatur Civic Center is being sponsored by Archer Daniels Midland, WSOY and the Herald & Review.

The legislation is Senate Bill 16.

kurt.erickson@lee.net|(217) 782-4043

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