When it comes to education funding, Stand for Children is fighting for two equally-important elements: adequate funding and equitable distribution. Illinois’s funding gap between rich and poor school districts is the second-highest in the country. We’re incredibly regressive – and that hurts the most at-risk children who most need access to a great education. And the nearly $1 billion in cuts over the last five years have made our inequities worse.
The budget has been the talk of the town in Springfield this week. From the Governor’s budget address yesterday to a number of revenue enhancements being discussed, the General Assembly is getting to the hard work of setting a budget for next year. And we must make sure that education funding equity is a part of the conversation.
Here’s an overview of the Governor’s proposed education budget:
- General State Aid. This is the single most important line in the education budget to combat our extreme inequities, and the Governor recommends an increase of about $150 million for a total General State Aid (GSA) investment of $4.6 billion. That’s good – but it still isn’t enough to fully fund the current Foundation Level. This would maintain about a 90% proration to school districts.
- Educator Supports and District Accountability. There are some relatively small line items that are important to making a difference for the neediest children, and the Governor recommended including them in next year’s budget. That includes teacher and principal mentoring support and interventions in the lowest-performing schools.
- Early Childhood Education Expansion. A birth-to-five initiative would seek to add $1.5 billion to early childhood programs over five years. For next year, that would mean an additional $25 million to the Early Childhood Block Grant (ECBG) to provide an additional 8,000 preschool slots, bringing the total ECBG investment to $325 million. Outside of the education budget, it would also mean increases for childcare and early intervention.
- Income Tax Extension with Property Tax Relief. Keep in mind that these recommendations are contingent on the Governor’s recommendation that the current individual income tax increase rate of 5% be maintained. It also proposes a $500 property tax refund for homeowners and an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit.
The House Speaker and Senate President both expressed support for the Governor’s plan to extend the temporary the income tax increase. In addition, another revenue proposal – the “millionaire’s tax” - passed the House Revenue committee this morning. That would bring in an additional $1 billion in revenue and all of it would go to school districts, distributed on a per-pupil basis. (That’s much-needed revenue for schools, but a really regressive way to distribute it.)
It’s been a promising week on the adequacy front – but there is much left silent on the equity side.
The Education Funding Advisory Committee met over the last year, reported how inequitable our education funding system is, and made recommendations for a systemic overhaul. We support their recommended move to a weighted student funding formula that distributes almost all education money through a single formula based on the needs of the district and its student population.
When funding is so limited that we’re prorating General State Aid (which hurts the poorest students the most), we can’t afford to spend education dollars in an untargeted way. We have to focus funding on the areas that have high poverty levels, low property values, and children who have the same right to a high-quality education as every other child.