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Senate Approves School Funding Overhaul

Credit flickr/LizMarie_AK

  The Illinois Senate has passed a plan to overhaul the way schools are funded. But the proposal has a long way to go before becoming law.

As Hannah Meisel reports, a plan to overhaul how schools are funded in Illinois passed the Illinois Senate, but has a long way to go before becoming law.

After months of negotiations and with just four days left on the General Assembly's spring calendar, the measure was deemed "ready for primetime." The plan would direct state funding to more impoverished schools and divert funding from schools in wealthier areas.

Supporters of the plan, like Sen. Mike Noland (D-Elgin) say this would help remedy inequity in school funding.

"Gangs, crime, poverty. These are all systemic and endemic of an underfunded and inadequately funded education system in the state of Illinois," he said.

But opponents say the redirection of state support isn't fair to schools that will receive less.

"For those of you who represent suburbs, understand: They're taking it from your property taxpayers and they're going to be asking you, 'What did you do to defend us?'" said Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine). Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) says he cannot vote to create "losers" even if his area would benefit from the change.

"My district wins," he said. "My schools, almost uniformly ... would get more money than they do now. They absolutely would. For me, this issue is larger than the fourteen counties I represent. Because there are more kids who go to school than just the fourteen counties I represent."

Righter also says he's wary of a provision in the legislation that would eliminate the guaranteed "foundation level" students in Illinois need for a proper education. That foundation level is $6,119, but has been prorated for the past few years; this year it's at 89 percent of the full figure.

The measure's sponsor, Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) says his plan would get rid of proration, so the foundation level would become a non-issue. He also says he doesn't understand why Republicans are concerned with education funding when only a few years ago, they referred to growth in poverty grants for education funding as "unsustainable."

Manar concedes that the plan will not win approval of the Illinois House before the legislature adjourns at the end of the week. He says the overhaul still needs more work and will use the summer to consult with more education experts and lawmakers. Manar says the school funding formula is too complicated to be pushed through the General Assembly on a time crunch.

"As you begin to peel layers back on how we distribute funds and all of the things and the criteria that go into this issue, it's no wonder it hasn't changed in 17 years," he said.

Copyright 2014 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Hannah covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and Illinois Public Radio. She previously covered the statehouse for The Daily Line and Law360, and also worked a temporary stint at the political blog Capitol Fax in 2018.