By Theresa Kelly Gegen
Who gets what for how much? Illinois school boards addressing their goals and belief statements continually ask themselves this question. School funding shapes how big the district’s pie is, and district financial management informs where each slice goes.
Every state is unique, and no more is this apparent than in school funding, and the intricacies of understanding school finance, and then sharing that understanding with stakeholders, is an issue that faces Illinois public school boards of education.
EdBuild, an organization dedicated to working on ways for states to make their funding formulas more equitable, was successful in garnering headlines and making school funding a national issue. The organization has dissolved, in part because it had successfully drawn attention to the issue at the national level, but also because “We didn’t really understand how very local this work has to be,” according to CEO Rebecca Sibilia.
EdBuild leaves behind a set of online tools (see resources link below) for comparing national to local school funding data, especially when considering the long term and optimistically moving past the coronavirus pandemic stage of funding issues. The tools include “Dividing Lines,” to illustrate the gulfs in wealth and privilege that exist at all levels, even between neighboring communities. This interactive map of district-level visualizations of financial and demographic data includes most U.S. school districts in years 2013–2018 with poverty rates, per-pupil finances (adjusted for cost of living), income, property value, and racial composition.
The coronavirus pandemic presents fiscal and operational challenges in all school districts. In this issue of the Journal, read excerpts, starting on page 18, from the 2021 edition of Essentials of Illinois School Finance by James B. Fritts. The excerpts outline the important role played by boards of education in the financial oversight of the distribution of relief funds. The full book — designed to assist school officials and those with budgeting responsibilities in understanding the complex issues involved in school finance, also discusses potential short- and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on revenue sources and managing costs.
As complicated as school funding is to make known to the community, school financial management is equally so. What do we do with our piece of the pie?
“Every school has infinite needs and finite resources,” says PJ Caposey, educator, speaker, author, and Superintendent of Schools for Meridian CUSD 223. “Financial management is incredibly complex. It is a process. It is a conversation. It is uncertain. It is never-ending. It is unpredictable.” Caposey shares three core principles for financial management with Journal readers in “Money Talk: Three Core Principles to Drive the District Forward,” starting on page 11.
As school board members and the governance team consider financial management issues, remember that the community needs to be engaged to gain an understanding of the process of applying finite resources to infinite needs. Don’t leave your constituents agreeing with Hall of Fame baseball player and legendary quipster Yogi Berra, who said, “Cut my pie into four pieces. I don’t think I could eat eight.”
Theresa Kelly Gegen is Editor of the Illinois School Board Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Resources associated with this column can be accessed via bit.ly/SO21JRes.