By DASCHELL M. PHILLIPS
State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26) spoke with community members in Hyde Park and Bronzeville in the past couple of weeks about Senate Bill 16 (S.B. 16), The School Funding Reform Act of 2014.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, S.B. 16 proposes that the state do away with funding schools based on property tax revenue and create a single funding formula that provides a simple, straightforward and equitable means to distribute education funds to Illinois school districts. The new system would include a four-year phase in process that would provide the most resources to schools most in need and greater transparency on how funds are spent at the school level.
“Education should be the great equalizer but our current funding system has some school districts building Olympic-size swimming pools while others are struggling to buy updated textbooks,” Mitchell said at both the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Action Council on Oct. 22 and a town hall meeting at the Chicago Urban League in Bronzeville on Oct. 27, which was attended by other elected officials including state Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-5), state Rep. Will Davis (D-30), Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and Ald. Will Burns (4th).
Mitchell said that only about 40 percent of the state’s education budget is allocated on the basis of need, which makes Illinois 48th out of 50 states in terms of the amount of supplemental support it offers its schools. He said that the state is also 49th in equity.
Mitchell said with S.B. 16, “For the first time in nearly 20 years, we have an opportunity to level the playing field and create a system that invests in all of our young people, regardless of where they live.”
S.B. 16 was approved by the senate and is currently in the house being evaluated by the Rules Committee.
Accountability of state-allocated funds on the district level, fair allocation to gifted programs and children with special needs and the need for the state to increase its share of the investment in public education whether or not S.B. 16 is passed were some of the concerns coming from the community.
Many of the elected officials replied to concerns by saying the bill is “not soup yet” and said the town hall and neighborhood meetings were a way for them to become aware of community concerns when reviewing the bill.
“We get to be educated by you,” Dunkin said. “We don’t take your concerns for granted. This hearing is about us making the bill the best it could possibly be.”