News Local/State

School Funding Plans: The Devil Is In The Details

Formulas on a chalkboard.

Discussion continues in Springfield about how to revamp the K-12 school funding formula. Carter Staley/NPR Illinois

School funding is one of the key issues in the General Assembly’s budget debate. Everyone agrees the current funding formula needs to change, but there’s less agreement on how to fix it.

A bipartisan effort is poised for a floor vote in the House, but in the Senate, compromise appears to have fallen apart.

One week after State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) held a press conference to announce his own school funding plan, he filed the measure in the form of amendments to two bills. Altogether, the plan totals almost 500 pages. The heart of Barickman's legislation parallels a measure filed in mid-February by Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood) and on April 4 in the Senate by Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill). However, Barickman’s measure isn’t quite as generous as the Democrats’ with student-teacher and student-computer ratios. It would also cut some funds for Chicago Public Schools, and offer districts the option of having PE only three days per week and contracting with outside vendors for driver education.

Barickman and Manar have a history of working together on this issue, but Barickman’s separate filing suggests their efforts to hammer out a bipartisan compromise has failed.

Diane Rutledge, director of the Large Unit District Association, which represents more than half of all school children in the state, remains optimistic.

“I think it’s quite possible that we’ll get all of these folks together and on the same page and hopefully have a bill that’s bipartisan, bicameral, that we can get passed and funded,” she says. “They’re not miles apart. All the same ingredients are in there. It’s just the detail. But they both care greatly, and that’s good for education. To really have legislators that are passionate about this I think is a good thing.”

Illinois currently has the most inequitable school funding formula in the nation, because it relies heavily on property taxes.