There is a bill pending in the Senate, Senate Bill 16, that if passed into law will dramatically change the way in which the State allocates its funding to school districts throughout the State. Under the bill, approximately 92% of State funding for K-12 education would be distributed using a single formula. The purpose of the bill is to ensure that all school districts in the State have funding available, through a combination of State aid and property taxes, to provide a foundational level of support for each student.
We support this as an overall goal. For years there has been an inequity in funding education in Illinois. This bill, though, does not add to the State’s funding of education. It simply divides up a small pie in a different way.
We are concerned about the impact that SB 16 will have on children in Evanston. The Illinois State Board of Education has calculated the amount each school district will receive next year if the bill becomes law. District 65 would lose 85% of its State funding, or $6.5 million per year. School District 202 will lose 81% of its funding, or $2.2 million per year.
In the past few years School District 65 has made substantial cuts to balance its budget, and it is projecting significant deficits beginning in 2015-16 and going forward. We believe that cutting $6.5 million in State funding would force the District to make significant cuts in staffing levels or to make up the lost funds through a referendum. If the average cost of an employee at District 65 is assumed to be $80,000, the loss of $6.5 million would mean the loss of 80 full-time-equivalent positions. Cuts of this magnitude would be devastating.
The funding cuts will similarly impact District 202. Between 15 and 20 full-time-equivalent positions would be at risk.
The potential cuts are disturbing because Districts 65 and 202 serve a high proportion of students from low-income families. For example, according to District 65’s records, 33% of its students qualify for “free lunch,” which is set at 130% of the federal poverty guideline. ISBE reports that 45% of District 65’s students are from low-income families, using “free- and reduced-fee lunch” status as the measure, which is 185% of the federal poverty guideline. In addition, 13.6% of District 65 students are English language learners (ELL); and about 14% have a disability, many of whom are being included in the general education classrooms with supports.
These and other children will suffer if the State slashes its funding to our schools.
We urge our legislators to find a middle ground for school districts, such as Evanston, that are serving high percentages of low-income students, ELL students and students with a disability.
We also think that rather than dividing up the pie in a different way, the State should find ways to devote more funds to education and perhaps use the additional funds to help balance out the inequities in funding, rather than taking away funds from schools districts that are providing substantial benefits to high numbers of vulnerable children.
Moreover, if the State legislature cuts State funding to school districts, it should waive tax caps and allow the school districts to make up the difference through an increase in property tax revenues. Local school boards can make the decision whether to exercise that power based on their districts’ and their children’s own unique circumstances better than the state legislature. Indeed, making substantial cuts in state funding while blocking school districts from raising taxes to cover the shortfall is putting a stranglehold on education.
Finally, we ask our legislators to take a closer look at some provisions of SB 16: a) in setting the base foundation level of funding and the factors that are used to increase the base level, take into account that education costs are different throughout the State; b) ensure that the equalized assessed value of property in each school district is calculated on a consistent basis throughout the State, so that property with a market value of xyz in Evanston has the same EAV as property with a market value of xyz in all other regions of the State; c) in defining what constitutes a low-income household, take into account that housing costs are substantially more in the Chicagoland area than in other parts of the State, which substantially impacts disposable income and the impacts of poverty; d) change the weighting factor for the “concentration” of low-income students, so that school districts with 45% low-income students are getting more than than only one-fourth of the amount that schools with 90% low-income are getting; and e) in calculating “Available Local Resources,” recognize the full impact of property tax caps for school districts that are subject to property taxes.
We think these issues will take on more significance to school districts like Evanston as the base foundational level increases. These issues should also be addressed because SB 16 contains a provision that normal pension costs paid by school districts (e.g., those potentially shifted by the State to school districts) will be deducted in calculating a school district’s “Available Local Resources.” The effect of this provision would be in essence to subsidize pension costs that are shifted to school districts with lower property values. Those with higher property values will end up holding the bag.