Illinois PTA Urges Governor Rauner to Sign SB1

Illinois PTA president Brian Minsker spoke on Tuesday at a press conference in Decatur calling on Governor Rauner to sign Senate Bill 1 (SB1), a bill that would change Illinois’s school funding formula. His remarks are below, and you can view a video of the press conference courtesy of the Decatur Herald and Review (President Minsker’s remarks begin at 8:25). In addition, Illinois PTA encourages every PTA member to take a couple of minutes today contact Governor Rauner to urge him to sign SB1 using our ready-to-go letter.

Much of the news since the passage of a state budget has focused on the requirement of an evidence-based funding model in order for schools to receive funding this year. The need to keep our schools open for this school year, which for some has already begun, is certainly one reason to support SB1, the only evidence-based funding model that has passed both houses of the General Assembly.

But that budget requirement is not the primary reason that the Illinois PTA is urging the governor to sign SB1. Illinois PTA has long supported education funding that is adequate, equitable, and sustainable as part of our legislative platform. While our state remains far from meeting those three goals, SB1 is an important first step towards achieving them.

As a statewide association with PTAs in rural, suburban, and urban school districts, it was essential that no school district lose funding under an evidence-based model and that such protections last for more than a handful of years. SB1 provides just that, locking in current levels of funding as a foundation.

In Illinois, we currently spend a worst-in-the-nation $0.81 on a low-income student’s education for every $1.00 we spend on a non-low-income student. By determining the unique cost to educate a student in each Illinois school district, by measuring that against the district’s ability to raise its own funding, by treating every school district in Illinois the same in how current, but not legacy, pension costs are handled, and by providing more funding for districts the further they are from their target funding, SB1 begins the process of providing a more equitable distribution of funds throughout Illinois.

This approach is essential to guaranteeing that the quality of a child’s education does not depend on their zip code. Governor Rauner promised to fix our funding formula. His bipartisan commission recommended an evidence-based funding model, which SB1 now implements. The time has come for the governor to deliver on that promise and sign SB1.

We have spent the last two years without a budget, and we have seen the lasting damage that has been done to our community colleges, our universities, and our social services. Now that we finally have a budget, let’s not shift the political fight to our schools and our children, for that is what this fight is truly about. Do we move to provide every child in Illinois a quality education, or do we use our children, our future, as pawns to score political points? Governor Rauner, Illinois PTA urges you to sign SB1 for every Illinois child.

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.

 

National PTA Statement on President Trump’s Budget Proposal

National PTA released the following statement on Wednesday regarding President Trump’s proposed budget.

President Trump’s Cuts to Public Education Devastating for America’s Children

President Donald Trump released his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018. The proposal cuts funding for public education programs by $9.2 billion.

“Equitable, high-quality public education for all students is essential to children and the nation’s long-term success,” said Laura Bay, president of National PTA. “Federal funding for education has remained at 2% of the federal budget for decades. Cutting funding for public education programs by an astounding $9.2 billion would further undermine opportunity for all children. Greater investments in public education are critical to ensure every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential and to improve our nation’s economic competitiveness.”

In addition to cutting vital funding for public education programs overall, President Trump’s budget proposal does not include funding for educator professional development or for Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants, which help ensure students receive well-rounded educational opportunities, learn in healthy and safe school environments and have opportunities to use technology in the classroom. Funding for Title I—which aids schools with high percentages of children from low-income families—as well as for special education grants through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) remains at the current level in the proposal. The proposal also does not include investments for family engagement in education through the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) program.

“Now more than ever, it is imperative to invest in family engagement programs as well as special education and Title I to ensure all children are provided the best opportunities to thrive and learn,” said Nathan R. Monell, CAE, National PTA Executive Director. “Across the country there are great disparities in available resources as well as the quality of and access to educational opportunities. National PTA remains steadfast in our belief that robust federal investments must be made in public education programs that promote equity and opportunity for all children.”

While making significant cuts to public education funding, President Trump’s budget proposal includes a new $250 million competitive grant program that would allow public dollars to be used for private and religious school tuition. Additionally, the proposal allocates $1 billion in Title I for the creation of a new grant program that would allow those funds to “follow” a child to any public school.

“National PTA has strong concerns about any proposal that would significantly affect the distribution of funds across and within Title I districts and create division and separation within communities. Our association also opposes any private school choice system—tax credits, vouchers or deductions—that drains critical public school resources,” added President Bay. “Public dollars must remain invested in public schools and not be diverted for the benefit of all students and the future of our nation.”

Every Student Counts—A New Report on Public Education in Illinois

The state of Illinois has a goal of 60% of Illinoisans with a post-secondary degree or credential by the year 2025. Today, thatnumber is 50%. Advance Illinois just released a new report, Every Student Counts—The State We’re In, that documents where public education stands in Illinois on several key measures related to that goal.

every-student-counts-report-coverThe report looks at important steps along a child’s education path, including:

  • Kindergarten Readiness (currently no data)
  • 4th Grade Reading (currently 35%)
  • 8th Grade Math (currently 32%)
  • College Readiness (currently 38%)
  • Post-Secondary Enrollment (currently 64%)
  • Post-Secondary Completion (currently 28%)
  • Adults with Post-Secondary Degrees/Credentials (currently 50%)

Each of these steps is an indicator of how prepared a student is for the next step up the education ladder. For example, 8th grade math scores correlate with ACT scores, a measure of college readiness, so a student with meeting the 8th grade math standards is on track to do well on the ACT and be ready to go to college or get a post-secondary certification after graduating high school.

The report also documents the poor job Illinois has done as a state in funding education overall as well as the inequitable distribution of the funds the state does provide. This is especially significant because, as the report notes, students from wealthier families do much better on every step listed above than their peers from low-income families.

In 2015, 43% of Illinois school districts had over half of their students living in low-income homes, up from 13% in 2005. Research shows that educating low-income students costs more because they often start school academically behind their more wealthy peers. Yet, as the report notes, Illinois is last in the nation by far in providing funding for low-income students. Ohio, which ranks firsts, spends $1.22 on a low-income student for every $1.00 spent on a non-low-income student. For Illinois, that figure is $0.81 spent on a low-income student for every $1.00 spent on a non-low-income student. This means that poorer students are too often faced with larger class sizes, older textbooks, less access to classes like art and music, and higher student activity fees—all the opposite of what they actually need.

High-quality preschool education can help low-income students come to kindergarten on track for long-term academic success. As recently as 2007, Illinois was a national leader in early childhood education with its Preschool for All initiative. The recession and state budget issues now mean that Illinois now has only 75% of the students in pre-K programs that it had five years ago, with many areas of the state needing to double their pre-K seats to meet the needs of families.

You can check out Advance Illinois’s website summarizing the report and download the full report. The Illinois General Assembly’s fall veto session ends today, and the stopgap spending measure expires before the new session convenes. Contact your legislator today to advocate for a comprehensive, fully-funded budget, and if a budget is not passed, plan now to contact them again when the General Assembly meets in the spring.