Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB) recommends more money for schools but not broader funding reform in 2001.
The Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB), following a public hearing at which the Network 21 coalition delivered substantial input, voted unanimously on Dec. 12, 2000, to include the following recommendations in a report to the Governor and General Assembly:
- Increase General State Aid (GSA) for fiscal year 2002 to no less than $135 million, which would provide a foundation level of $4,560 per pupil;
- Decrease the minimum threshold for access to the poverty grant from 20 percent low-income students with a school district to 15 percent;
- Create a new poverty grant formula wherein dollar amounts would reflect changes to the foundation level;
- Permit school districts, for GSA calculation purposes, to choose either the prior year's average daily attendance (ADA) or the most recent three-year average of ADA;
- Continue "hold harmless" payments through FY 2002;
- Re-enact the continuing appropriation for GSA with no sunset provision;
- Sunset the continuing appropriation for "hold harmless" through FY 2002;
- Support the Illinois State Board of Education budget request regarding Early Childhood Education.
At the same meeting EFAB selected Augenblick and Myers (A&M) to conduct a detailed investigation of Illinois' school finance system, including analyses into an adequate foundation level and poverty grant program. The firm recently completed a similar study for MPC.
EFAB's recommendations are consistent with MPC's to increase the state share of school funding, lower the the threshold level for the poverty grant, and continue the state's commitment to early childhood education.
EFAB operated under a short time-frame to develop its recommendations. Its members are statutorily required to present recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly by January 1, 2001, yet the members were only appointed in June 2000
That may be one reason EFAB's recommendations fell well short of addressing the fundamental problems with Illinois's public school finance system—problems cited repeatedly by Network 21: Quality Schools and Stronger Communities coalition.
Even if the legislature follows EFAB's recommendation to increase General State Aid by over $100 million, local property taxes will remain the predominant source of funding for public education. Newtwork 21, which is staffed by MPC, argues that overreliance on local property taxes serves as a disincentive for economic development, exacerbates competition between communities for tax base growth, encourages sprawl and limits the access of Illinois children to quality schools.
Questions also remain as to whether the proposed GSA increase is an adequate foundation level as determined by education outcomes. Denver-based Augenblick and Myers, in its study for MPC, found that school districts that achieve high performance spend on average $5,000 to $5,500 per pupil on basic education costs, or $500 to $1,000 more than the recommended foundation level of $4,560.
In addition, there are unresolved issues related to the data source for calculating the supplemental poverty grant. Decennial census data fail to keep up with the number of low-income families in a school district. MPC and Network 21 believe a more accurate and responsive data source is needed in the future.
To sum up, though a call for fundamental reform was not forthcoming from EFAB, the panel's receptivity to MPC/Network 21 reseach is a positive sign for the future. Meanwhile, MPC and Network 21 will work hard to ensure that a broader notion of school funding reform is at least discussed in the 2001 spring session.