Home > Uncategorized > NPR Story on Illinois Funding Provides Good Example of How Cuts in State Funds Hit Poor Districts Hardest

NPR Story on Illinois Funding Provides Good Example of How Cuts in State Funds Hit Poor Districts Hardest

April 18, 2016

20 NPR stations teamed up to develop stories on public education funding disparities and the Google public education feed featured the transcript from a recent broadcast on WBEZ describing the extraordinarily wide range of per pupil costs in Illinois. Contrasting the programs in Chicago Ridge School district ($9,794/pupil) and Rondout Public School District ($28,639/student), WBEZ reporter Becky Vevea illustrates the how marked spending differentials result in markedly different programs. The WBEZ report included a data set that could serve as a springboard for explaining why cuts in federal and state funds lead to wider disparities:

In most states, school funding breaks down roughly like this: state (45%), local (45%), federal (10%). But, in Illinois, that breakdown tilts toward local funding (56.8%). To compensate, the state tries to send more money to low property wealth districts like Chicago Ridge and less to districts like Rondout. In fact, says Rondout superintendent Wojcik, of her school’s $3.6 million budget, barely 2 percent comes from the state. That $28,639 is largely local money staying local.

Illinois already isn’t spending much of anything in Rondout, but it’s also drastically under-spending in districts that really need the help…

The state legislature says $6,119 is what’s needed to educate a child in Illinois. Lawmakers settled on the number eight years ago and haven’t changed it since. In fact, they’ve even underfunded that $6,119 amount in recent budget cycles.

But Illinois is not an outlier in this regard. New Hampshire, where I live and spent the last seven years as Superintendent, the district I led received was one of several districts that received no direct state aid because our districts were deemed sufficiently affluent. Like IL, NH also has wide disparities in per pupil costs ranging from $8,730 to $32,029 and, like IL, the state formula woefully underfunds schools. As noted in previous posts over the past decade 42 states haven been challenged because their funding formulas fail to provide the funds needed for their schools to meet standards set forth in their Constitutions. NH is among them and despite being on the losing end of lawsuits for over two decades nothing has changed.

This is where I have long believed the federal government could use its marginal funding to compel state’s to narrow the funding gaps— particularly in states like NH and IL where State legislatures have dragged their feet and failed to provide anything close to adequate funding for public education. If all federal funds were withheld until State legislatures adopted revenue streams that fully funded public education at today’s costs there might be an incentive for them to address their own tax structures so that they met they constitutional mandates.

But as noted in posts earlier this week, the federal government appears to be taking the opposite tack. Senator Lamar Alexander recently chastised Education Secretary John King for issuing a regulation that reinforced the longstanding requirement that federal funds be used to supplement and not supplant state funds. Senator Alexander asserted that this directive flew in the face of ESSA, which intended to give the States “more flexibility” in how they use their funds. So instead of the formula being: LOCAL FUNDS + STATE FUNDS + FEDERAL FUNDS = TOTAL FUNDS it would become LOCAL FUNDS + STATE FUNDS (which now incorporate the Federal funds) = TOTAL FUNDS… or substituting the current national figures, 45% + 45% + 10% would become  55% LOCAL + 45% STATE. Oh, and the State per pupil funding would, in all probability, remain constant for years on end.

All of this algebra combined with terminology like “supplement versus supplant” diminishes widespread outrage… but the impact is clear: districts serving children in poverty will suffer and those serving affluent children will continue to flourish…. and the economic and educational opportunity divides will widen.

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