Letter from Barbara Flynn Currie

State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25)

An explanation of the state education funding formulaIt isn’t news that the Illinois school funding formula is broken. Everyone agrees that it’s neither adequate nor equitable. Because the state doesn’t step up to the plate, school districts rely heavily on property taxes to pay the bill. It’s no wonder our property taxes are high: 67 cents of the average property tax dollar in Illinois goes to pay for public schools while, across the nation, it’s only 40 cents. And equity? Today the formula sends school districts only 81 cents to educate each low-income child, compared to $1 for every one of the rest. It’s a double whammy for school districts whose property isn’t worth very much. Even at confiscatory tax rates, these districts can’t raise enough to make sure their children have access to a quality public school education.

Governor Bruce Rauner, recognizing the problem, created a School Funding Commission last summer. I was a member of the bicameral and bipartisan group and our report set forward a framework for reform. The framework used research, based on best practices, to establish what it would take to provide adequate funding—and thus improved student outcomes—for each school district. It not only takes into account factors like poverty and the percentage of youngsters who are new to the English language, but it ensures that districts with significant portions of these children are first in line for new funding.

Last week Springfield approved the new funding formula. Unfortunately, the governor, calling it ‘a bailout for Chicago,’ has vowed to veto the bill.

The governor is wrong. The bill is by no means a bailout for Chicago. Indeed it begins to recognize the disparities in the current formula that seriously disadvantage Chicago public school students. More than 80 percent of Chicago’s public school children live in families with incomes below the poverty line. In fact, fully one-third of all low-income public school children in the state are in the Chicago public schools. But the current formula doesn’t recognize the educational challenges of concentrated poverty. And it doesn’t reflect the reality that, while the state pays pension costs for downstate teachers, Chicago teacher pensions are the sole responsibility of Chicago taxpayers. These taxpayers, too, of course, help foot the bill for downstate. This is why CPS School Superintendent Forrest Claypool complains that for every $4 the state spends on downstate students, it spends only $3 for youngsters in the Chicago system.

Bailout? Come on, governor. There are 268 school districts across the state that will get more funding per pupil under the new formula than Chicago. While the new measure begins to recognize that part of Chicago’s school costs go to pay for pensions, it will take years before that recognition leads to equitable pension funding. Indeed, next year, the state will increase its payments to the downstate teacher pension fund by $600 million—not a penny of which goes to Chicago.

If this were a Chicago bailout, it would not have had the strongest support of advocacy organizations like Stand for Children, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and Advance Illinois. It would not have won approval from the associations representing school districts, school administrators and business officials. Nor would it have won approval from both of the state’s teacher organizations, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association.
There’s no magic in the new formula if the state fails to add substantially to public school spending. But school funding will remain inadequate and inequitable if the governor carries through on his threat to veto the bill.

It isn’t too late to let the governor know what you think.

Call him. Write him. Tell Gov. Rauner to sign Senate Bill 1.

State Sen. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25)