Understanding SB1: Changing the Illinois School Funding Formula

Senate Bill 1 (SB1) is aimed at improving how Illinois distributes money to local school districts. The bill uses an Evidence-Based Funding Model, as recommended by Governor Rauner’s Illinois School Funding Reform Commission to distribute new state education funding in a more equitable manner than the existing formula. SB1 has passed both houses and awaits the governor’s signature or veto. The budget passed by the legislature requires that school funding use an evidence-based model, such as SB1, without which no funds will be distributed to K-12 schools this fiscal year. SB1 is the only such funding formula bill to pass both houses.

Why do we need a new funding formula?

Last fall, Advance Illinois released a report on public education in Illinois called The State We’re In 2016-2017 noting that an increasing number of Illinois school districts are teaching more children living in poverty and more children learning English, both populations that require extra supports for success. As state funding for education has fallen further behind the foundation level (the state-determined cost to adequately educate a student in Illinois), school districts have increased property taxes to make up the difference. However, property wealth is not evenly distributed across the state, with some districts able to raise significant funding through property taxes, while others are able to raise very little even with high tax rates. The funding provided by the state is also not evenly distributed under the current funding formula, as for every $1.00 Illinois spends on a non-low-income student, it spends only $0.81 on a low-income student—the worst ratio in the country.

How will the new formula work?

The new formula calculates a unique adequacy target for each school district by applying 27 evidence-based criteria based on a district’s demographics (e.g., class size, technology, up-to-date materials, special education teachers and aides). The formula also identifies how much state funding a district currently receives and locks it in as the district’s base funding minimum and measures how much local capacity the district has to raise funds through property taxes, called its local capacity target.

Districts are then divided into four tiers based on how close they are to their adequacy targets, with Tier 1 districts being furthest away and Tier 4 districts being the closest. When new funding beyond the base funding minimum is allocated, Tier 1 schools get the first 50%, Tiers 1 and 2 split the next 49%, and the final 1% is split between Tiers 3 and 4. Those additional funds are then counted as part of the following year’s base funding minimum, so districts will move out of the lower tiers as they get closer to their adequacy target.

Will any school districts lose funding?

No. The formula locks in a district’s current funding level as its base funding minimum. All new state funding for education going forward is in addition to what districts currently receive, and it is those additional funds that will be allocated using the Evidence-Based Funding Model.

Is this a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) bailout?

No. Under the current formula, CPS is handled differently, receiving a block grant that other districts do not but also paying for their teacher pensions that the state pays for other districts. That means that CPS currently has to keep tax dollars away from the classroom to pay for pension costs that other districts do not have to pay. It is estimated that state pension payments on behalf of districts other than CPS are worth an average of $1,880 per student in the Chicago suburbs and $1,420 per student in downstate school districts.

With SB1, the block grant is folded into CPS’s base funding minimum and eliminated going forward. Regarding pensions, CPS is treated like every other school district, with the state paying for the cost of pension benefits its teachers are earning today. That means that CPS receives approximately $220 million that it is required to use for pensions, just like every other district has had in years past. However, CPS will still be the only school district required to pay for its own legacy pension costs, or “unfunded liability.” That means that CPS will spend approximately $0.14 on its unfunded pension liabilities and $0.86 on educating students. The new formula accounts for this by crediting CPS’s local capacity target, since it can only spend a tax dollar once, but does not give CPS additional funding for these legacy costs.

Additionally, if the state were to push pension costs to all local school districts to reduce the state’s pension liabilities in the future,  SB1 would treat all districts identically to CPS.

Where can I learn more about SB1?

There are several places you can find more information about SB1:

What is Illinois PTA’s position on SB1?

Illinois PTA’s mission is “to make every child’s potential a reality.” Our legislative platform supports adequate, equitable, and sustainable funding for education in Illinois. The current state funding formula and level of funding meets none of those three conditions. SB1 represents an important step in moving public education funding in Illinois towards being adequate, equitable, and sustainable. The hold harmless clause in SB1 protects existing levels of state funding for every school district in Illinois indefinitely, rather than phasing out like previous funding formula proposals did. For these reasons, Illinois PTA supports SB1 and urges Governor Rauner to sign the bill into law.

What can I do?

Contact Governor Rauner and urge him to sign SB1 into law. Should the governor veto SB1, Illinois PTA will issue a call to action that will provide you with a message to your legislators asking them to override the veto. Sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network to be sure you get the call.

 

Ending the Expulsion of Preschoolers in Illinois

Photo © 2009 by Sarah Gilbert under Creative Commons license.

“Expelled from preschool” sounds like a headline from a humor website like The Onion, but in fact preschoolers are expelled nationwide at more than three times the rate of students in K-12 classes. More significantly, these expulsions are disproportionately given to boys and to African-American and Hispanic students. Preschool education is critical to preparing students for success in school, especially for students from low-income families, students learning English as a second language, and students with special needs. Preschool expulsion jeopardizes the foundation of those students’ education, making them less prepared to enter kindergarten.

Illinois passed a law last year requiring K-12 schools to improve their suspension and expulsion practices. This year, the Illinois General Assembly has passed HB 2663, which currently awaits the governor’s signature. HB2663 would:

  • Prohibit the expulsion of children from preschool programs that receive money from the state.
  • Requires documentation of steps taken when a child exhibits persistent and serious challenging behaviors to ensure that all available interventions, supports, and community resources are applied.
  • Provides for the creation of a transition plan if there is documented evidence that all available interventions and supports recommended by a professional have been exhausted to move the child to another preschool program. The plan must be designed to ensure continuity of services and the comprehensive development of the child.
  • Requires the state to recommend professional development training and resources to improve the ability of teachers, administrators, and staff to promote social-emotional development, address challenging behaviors, and to understand trauma and trauma-informed care, cultural competence, family engagement with diverse populations, the effect of implicit bias on adult behavior, and the use of reflective practice techniques.
  • Requires the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, in consultation with the governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development and the Illinois State Board of Education, to adopt rules similar to those above for licensed day care centers, day care homes, and group day care homes.

Illinois PTA is urging Governor Rauner to sign HB2663 into law.

The Woke PTA’s Guide to Advocacy

wokeptaThe last few weeks have seen an unprecedented level of civic engagement. Huge demonstrations have drawn out people who have never marched. Congressional switchboards have received more calls than ever before. Your PTA may have many members who are now looking for ways to advocate on behalf of children through PTA. Here’s a guide to help your newly #WokePTA started with advocacy.

IRS Limits

All PTAs are 501(c)3 non-profit organizations, which limits how they can advocate. The primary requirement is that your PTA addresses issues, not people. That means that your PTA cannot endorse candidates, but can (if your membership votes to do so) support a school referendum, advocate for policy changes in your school district, or speak out about pending legislation.

In IRS terms, this is the difference between “political campaign activity” (working for or against a candidate) and “lobbying” (working for or against legislation). The former is prohibited; the latter is allowed. Participating in “political campaign activity” can result in a PTA losing its 501(c)3 status and having to pay certain excise taxes as well.

The other constraint that the IRS places on 501(c)3 organizations is the amount of money they may spend on lobbying. The IRS limits lobbying activity to an “insignificant” portion of an organization’s budget, and defines insignificant as 5 percent. This means that your PTA can spend up to 5% of its budget on things like information handouts and yard signs about a school referendum. Given that most grassroots advocacy involves fairly low-cost activities, this limit should not hinder your PTA’s advocacy efforts to a significant degree.

Engaging in State and National Issues

One of the benefits of being a PTA is having people following issues and legislation on the state and national level. Both Illinois PTA and National PTA have easy-to-use advocacy tools to alert members about pending legislation that they should contact their legislators about.

You can sign up for the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network by providing just your e-mail address and zip code (to identify your state legislators). When Illinois PTA issues a call to action, you will receive an e-mail with a link to our Voter Voice tools that will have a pre-written e-mail that you just need to sign to send to your legislators. It literally takes a minute or two. The Voter Voice tools provide additional resources to help you find out about pending legislation and contacting legislators as well.

National PTA also uses Voter Voice for their advocacy efforts, and you can sign up using the Quick Sign Up box. National PTA also publishes a monthly PTA Takes Action newsletter that provides timely information on national issues.

You should also note that meeting with your legislators, either state or national, doesn’t necessarily involve a trip to Springfield or Washington, DC. Your legislators may have a local office in your community or nearby that you can visit as well. You can use the Voter Voice tools to look up your legislators and locate their district offices. Even if you cannot meet with your legislator, meeting with their staff can be productive as well. Last fall, Illinois PTA presented a webinar on how to meet with legislators as part of its preparation for Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield. The recorded webinar will walk you through how to set up an appointment and what to do when you have your meeting.

Addressing Local Issues

Advocating with PTA is not just about state and national legislation. PTA advocacy can make a significant difference in local issues as well. As Illinois’s budget crisis approaches 2 years, many school districts are conducting bond referenda to provide needed revenue for their schools. Your PTA can support or oppose a referendum if your membership votes to do so. Illinois PTA has covered the things that PTAs can and can’t do regarding elections, and National PTA recently teamed with Nonprofit VOTE to provide election guides in both English and Spanish.

If your school district has school board elections coming up this spring, your PTA can host a candidate forum. All candidates must be invited to participate in the forum, though some may choose not to do so. Each candidate should be given equal time to speak. Your PTA can have specific questions that it puts to all of the candidates, and you can also take questions from the audience. In the latter case, you may want to have audience members submit questions on index cards so similar questions can be reduced to one comprehensive question.

Local PTA advocacy is not limited to just referenda and school board candidate forums. Your PTA may be concerned about supporting special education students, gifted students, LGBTQ students, immigrant students and families, homeless students, or other groups. There may be school district policies that your PTA does not believe provide the best education or environment for the students of the district. If your PTA wants to address a local issue, but doesn’t know where to start, Illinois PTA’s video on How to Advocate the PTA Way walks you through how to pick an issue, create an advocacy campaign, and bring it to life.

Additional Resources

PTA has been advocating on behalf of children for 120 years, on issues such as child labor, school nutrition, and juvenile justice. PTA can make its biggest difference in the lives of children when it changes policies and laws that affect them throughout a school district or across a state or the nation. The benefit of this long history of PTA advocacy is that there are a lot of resources to help your PTA be successful advocates.

National PTA Provides New Resources for PTA Advocates

pta-advocacy-chagnes-lives-coverPTA is the nation’s oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy organization, with a legacy of work that has improved the lives of every child in this country. On Friday, January 27, National PTA announced its 2017 Federal Public Policy Agenda with a Facebook Live event (view recording).

As part of this announcement, National PTA released PTA Advocacy Changes Lives, National PTA’s guide to impacting public policy. The guide highlights PTA’s advocacy work and provides information on topics such as family engagement, juvenile justice, supporting children with special needs, health, and safety. Each section also includes a Why PTA Advocacy Matters section that shares a personal story of how PTA advocacy has changed the lives of children at the local level. If your PTA is looking for a way to make a difference in your school or your district, the PTA Advocacy Changes Lives guide is a great place to start.

Also included in the announcement was the release of National PTA’s legislative checklist for the 115th Congress. The checklist includes the following goals:

  • Adequately fund education programs through a regular appropriations process
  • Reauthorize the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA)
  • Reauthorize the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
  • Reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act
  • Reauthorize and modernize the Family Educational Rights & Privacy Act (FERPA) and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)
  • Improve the well-being and learning environment of children
  • Expand and enhance early childhood education opportunities
  • Protect youth, families, and communities from gun and other violence

The checklist provides additional details on each of these goals.