For decades, Illinois’ school funding formula relied on local property taxes and shortchanged students in low-income school districts. In 2015, The Education Trust, a national education advocacy organization, ranked Illinois’ school funding system worst in the nation for equity. For every dollar spent on a non-low-income student, Illinois spent 81 cents on a low-income student, even as research shows that low-income kids need additional support. Efforts to fix the formula date to the 1990s, but the complexity of school funding and the state’s regional differences made it difficult to build consensus. With the support of Funding Illinois’ Future, school funding reform bills passed the Illinois Senate in 2014 and 2016, Though the full passage and enactment of legislation was still out of reach, legislators from both parties acknowledged that the school funding system needed to be fixed.
Funding Illinois’ Future brought together its largest coalition yet for the push for school funding reform in 2017, amplifying the message of “fix the formula” through myriad town hall meetings, press conferences, social media posts, letters to the editor and conversations with legislators. The coalition supported an evidence-based model as the vehicle for fixing the formula and driving resources to the neediest school districts in Illinois. On May 31, an evidence-based model as part of SB1 passed the General Assembly, the first school funding reform bill to pass both chambers in 20 years. The coalition continued to press for the evidence-based model as the solution even as the Governor issued an amendatory veto of the bill on Aug. 1. The legislature came to a compromise solution a few weeks later, and a new, more equitable school funding formula was signed into law on Aug. 31.
While the new formula fixes the structural funding issues facing Illinois, the system will remain inequitable for hundreds of thousands of students until it is fully funded. After years of under-investment in education Illinois, much work remains before funding gaps are closed between low-income and wealthier school districts. Funding Illinois’ Future remains steadfast in its support for Illinois’ public education system and the belief that zip codes shouldn’t determine the quality of a child’s education.