School funding model fixed, now what?

After inequitably funding schools for over 20 years, Illinois finally put politics aside, and made a historic move towards bettering the quality of education for 2.1 million kids. On August 31, 2017 Illinois instituted a new, more equitable way of funding schools — an evidence-based model that drives resources to the state’s neediest districts.

But many are asking the question, “How do we make sure this new model delivers on its promise?”

Dr. Gregg Fuerstenau, superintendent of Taylorville School District, and member of the Funding Illinois’ Future coalition since its inception in 2013, says there is more work to be done. “We aren’t going away, he said. We have to continue to push for more money for the formula.”

If you talk to Fuerstenau and the school superintendents who are part of the Funding Illinois’ Future coalition and have worked on school funding reform legislation for the past five years, they will say achieving something of this magnitude was a tremendous feat, but that it was just the beginning. The new model is based on the individual needs of low-income students, English learners and students with disabilities. Illinois must achieve equity for these students before it can reach adequate funding of education.

“We thank our legislators who fought for funding equity and who put our school funding system back on the right track. However, there is always more work to be done. The underfunding of public schools has been going on for years. We have a new, equitable model, but now we need to put enough money into the new model that will address the years of damage to schools and invest in critical services our students need now to flourish,” said Ralph Grimm, retired superintendent of Galesburg School District.

Preliminary models ran by the Illinois State Board of Education say the cost of reaching adequacy is close to $6.2 billion.* The Governor’s commission on school funding suggested reaching this goal incrementally over the next 10 years. Superintendents and education advocates are asking if their children should have to wait a decade before they receive adequate funding.

“We are asking the state to prioritize the investment of our students’ education,” said Dr. Jennifer Garrison, superintendent of Sandoval School District.

Fuerstenau added, “There are students going to school right now that won’t experience any benefits if we wait 10 years to fund our model to adequacy. We owe it to them to get to adequate funding sooner.”

The sooner the state invests the appropriate amount of funding in schools, the sooner we as a state enable children to reach their full potential as talented citizens and leaders of Illinois.

Advance Illinois and the Funding Illinois’ Future coalition are gearing up for the Fixed It Now Fund It campaign—a campaign to advocate for an adequate amount of funding for all children in all Illinois public schools to achieve academic success. Click here to receive regular email updates on school funding.

*based on FY16 data