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Fixing the state’s broken school funding formula

Fixing the state’s broken school funding formula is the goal of two legislative proposals introduced during the week, while another recently filed measure seeks to address the teacher shortage in Illinois’ rural school districts.

In other news, the Illinois State Police is taking a proactive step to combat hate crimes in Illinois communities.

Advancing true parity for schools

After years of bipartisan negotiations, two legislative proposals have been advanced to reduce the inequity and inadequacy that has plagued the state’s more than 800 school districts, and truly address questions of school funding parity.

The legislation is based on the framework advanced by the Governor’s bipartisan Education Funding Reform Commission, and establishes an evidence-based school funding formula.

The “evidence-based system” attempts to establish a formula that would take into account the vast and unique differences that exist between the state’s many districts, ranging from urban Chicago schools to rural downstate and suburban districts.  Notably, the evidence-based system drives dollars to where they are most needed and where the additional resources can do the most good.

The evidence-based funding model takes into account 27 different variables in order to set individual adequacy targets for each school district that are based on the districts’ real costs, accepted best practices, and student demographics.  That data will be used to establish four funding “tiers,” which would ensure that additional funding goes to the state’s neediest districts. Tier 4 would encompass the districts that are financially the strongest, with spending already exceeding their adequacy target.  Tier 1 would include struggling school districts that are spending far below their adequacy target.

The four-tiered system would also be used to protect the most vulnerable schools, ending the practice of “proration.”  Proration is the result of the state’s past habit of funding only a percentage of the school funding formula.  Under proration, some of the districts with the most need saw the most significant budget cuts.

Additionally, all school districts would be protected through a minimum guarantee provision, which during the first year would be based on the amount the district received during the 2016-2017 school year.  In the second year and each year thereafter, the minimum guarantee would be a per student guarantee tied to the school’s actual student population to better reflect need, and funding would be based on the amount the district received per student in FY2017.

The legislation also repeals the controversial Chicago block grant, ensures equitable funding for charter schools, and provides over $200 million to help make the CPS pension payment.

In order to ensure consistent review of the state’s school funding, the legislation establishes a panel to review the new formula every three years.  This would allow lawmakers to not only see how funding is being allocated, but better understand the outcomes that can be achieved for each school district.  There will be clear data on the results of decisions to spend more or less money in Illinois schools, and information on how those budgetary decisions will impact in-class learning.  Additionally, taxpayers will have a better idea of how much funding their schools need, in terms of both state and local revenues.

An accompanying legislative measure would provide substantial mandate relief to all school districts, establishing statewide various management tools that are currently granted only to Chicago Public Schools.  These tools include cutting cost-prohibitive bureaucratic red tape involved in third-party contracting; flexibility on scheduling of physical education; allowing student-athletes to replace P.E. hours with additional classes or study halls; and permitting citizens to discharge certain unfunded mandates from their districts via referendum.

As a package, the bills eliminate the controversial Chicago Block Grant while offering pension parity to Chicago Public Schools, creating a single, uniform funding system for every school district in Illinois.  Both education reform measures would be tied to pension reform legislation (SB 2172/SB 2173) that has been filed in the Senate.

Easing rural teacher shortage

In response to a teacher shortage impacting school districts in many of Illinois’ rural communities, legislation pending in the Senate would help these rural school districts struggling to attract good teachers choose from a much larger pool of applicants.

Acknowledging that a mastery of standardized testing doesn’t necessarily translate into good teachers in Illinois classrooms, Senate Bill 1123 would add an additional avenue for students to receive their teaching license—by achieving a minimum grade point average of 3.0 out of a 4.0 scale in the core education curriculum classes at the universities they attend.  Currently, students seeking a career in teaching must score at least 22 on their ACT test or 1110 on their SAT test, or pass the Academic Proficiency (TAP)/Basic Skills test in order to receive their teaching licenses.  However, those hurdles seem like a pretty low bar to me.

A 2016 report from Teachers of Tomorrow found Illinois’ schools have some of the highest levels of unfilled teaching positions in the nation, to the tune of 6,381.

State police step up efforts to fight hate crimes

Illinois is seeking to more aggressively combat hate crimes by prioritizing training of law enforcement on how to better identify, investigate and prosecute these types of crimes.  Though the General Assembly has been proactive about passing laws targeting hate crimes, law enforcement officials must have an awareness and understanding of these laws in order to identify and pursue perpetrators of hate crimes.  The Illinois State Police (ISP) will be working with the Anti-Defamation League to create a new curriculum for ISP cadets, which will enable the state’s law enforcement to better recognize and investigate hate crimes so they can bring criminals to justice.  The focus and purpose of this training will strengthen the knowledge and skills of officers by providing up-to-date information and strategies for identifying, investigating, and prosecuting hate crimes.  It will also provide officers with ideas on how to work more effectively to change community norms that foster tolerance of and indifference toward hate crimes.

Speed limit increase bill stalled

I am the sponsor of legislation (Senate Bill 2036) that would increase the maximum speed limit to 75 mph on Interstates 80 and 355 and other interstates west and south of I-80 and I-355. The bill has approximately 29 sponsors. It only takes 30 votes to pass the Senate. Unfortunately, our Republican spokesperson on the Transportation Committee, Karen McConnaughay, has been reluctant to allow the bill to be heard and voted on in committee. A committee hearing must happen before a vote is held by the full Senate.

The insurance companies who oppose the bill have paid lobbyists available at will to advocate on their behalf.  If you would like to see this pass, or at least be discussed in committee, send a message to the Minority Spokesperson of the Senate Transportation Committee, Karen McConnaughay, at http://www.senatormcconnaughay.com/Contact/Contact-Form or call her district office at 847-214-8245.

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