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Illinois Lawmakers Studying School Funding

Rich Egger

State funding for education in Illinois has dropped by hundreds of millions of dollars in the past several years.

Now a group of state senators is taking a fresh look at how that money is divided among Illinois' 862 school districts.

We can't think of it as a one or two year solution

At a nearly three-hour hearing in the Capitol, they heard from state education officials, union leaders, and activists.

Some say Illinois doesn't spend enough on schools. Others say it just needs to allocate the money more fairly. But almost all of them agree Illinois is not where it needs to be.

"Our own advisory council says that we're behind by about $2,500 a child," said Robin Steans, who's with the advocacy group Advance Illinois.

She was referring to the amount the state says should be spent per student. Wealthier districts can easily exceed that level with local property taxes. But the state has to help poorer districts meet the target.

The state’s support level has remained at $2,500 for several years. Steans said it will take a long time to get funding where it should be.

"We can't think of it as a one or two year solution, we are going to have to have a four, five, six, seven year strategy in mind for how we're going to do that," said Steans.

"And we're going to have to have the political will to not only aspire to that, but then actually see it through."

The committee is supposed to report back to the Senate leaders by February 2014.

Brian Mackey covers Illinois state government and politics from the WUIS Statehouse bureau. He was previously A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. He can be reached at (217) 206-6020.