September/October 2017

IASB Director of Governmental Relations Zach Messersmith tackles the question for this issue of The Illinois School Board Journal .

Question: Will a new funding formula be fair to my school district?

Answer: The only answer I can feel confident giving is “I don’t know.” To simplify it further, I would answer this question with a classic shrug emoticon.

As this issue of The Illinois School Board Journal goes to press, the fate of school funding reform in Illinois was still uncertain. In case you missed it, in July a full statewide budget was put in place for the first time in over two years. But an appropriations provision states that funding for general education spending must be distributed through an evidence-based funding model. Until such a model is in place, schools will be, essentially, without general funding. Senate Bill 1, an evidence-based funding model that passed both houses, was given an amendatory veto by Governor Bruce Rauner in early August. And that’s where the situation stands as of this writing.

I am going to avoid speculation about what will happen, and likely has happened, by the time this hits your mailbox. Answering the question “What is fair?” could be accomplished through a series of objective measurements, but things are always more complicated than that with the Illinois General Assembly.

However, fairness and funding reform see a flicker of good news: An “evidenced-based” funding model is now the law in Illinois.

Adopting an evidence-based funding model was at the core of the “equitable and adequate funding” pillar of Vision 20/20, a partnership IASB shares with IASA, IPA, Illinois ASBO, the Superintendents’ Commission for the Study of Demographics and Diversity, and the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.

The real accomplishment behind getting an evidence-based model in statute is that both Democrats and Republicans agreed that such a model is the best way forward. Democrats and Republicans in Illinois have not agreed about much since January 2015. So, whatever the outcome, the fact that the new funding formula has to be an evidenced-based model demonstrates political compromise is possible.

Although we don’t yet know the details, Illinois school districts are going to have to deal with a new funding model from Springfield. The determination of whether or not that funding formula is fair is going to be an individual school district decision. School district finances are not one-size-fits-all, and never will be, given the economic diversity in Illinois. The evidenced-based model is designed to get us closer to equability, i.e. fairness.

One of the best things to come from the debate over a new funding model has been the advocacy of school leaders. Whatever determinate you come to at the local level about the fairness of the new funding model, one thing can be certain, the Illinois Association of School Boards needs you to continue to advocate for your local school district on this and all issues.