Network 21 testimony before State Board of Education advocates reform in funding and quality - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Network 21 testimony before State Board of Education advocates reform in funding and quality

In tight budget times, MPC and Network 21 are offering practical suggestions to prioritize and increase core education funding and enact quality reforms.

Submitted by Network 21 to the Illinois State Board of Education, November 15, 2001

Good afternoon. I’m Leslie Lipschultz, the new Network 21 education and tax policy manager at the Metropolitan Planning Council. 

I appreciate the opportunity to make some brief remarks today. Network 21 is a year-old coalition of education, business and civic organizations that share a common interest in reforming Illinois’ school finance system and improving education outcomes. 

Our diverse membership includes approximately 28 organizations, including among others, the Illinois PTA, Large Unit District Association, the Illinois Education Association and Illinois Federation of Teachers, Voices for Illinois Children, the Illinois Business Roundtable, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Chicago United, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. 

We worked closely last year with the Education Funding Advisory Board, the Illinois State Board of Education and legislators to pass House Bill 3050. We were very encouraged to see the progress made in such key areas as a foundation level increase and an adjustment of the poverty threshold, as well as an extension of the continuing appropriation.  In addition, we developed an agenda last spring of promising areas for quality reforms that are necessary to ensure that school resources are deployed wisely.  Some of our member organizations have been particularly active in the accountability and quality domains, such as, Chicago United in the area of teacher quality and the Illinois Business Roundtable in student assessments.

Network 21 is also working to develop a comprehensive approach to education reform that will address how school funding dollars are generated, develop foundation level and other school finance recommendations, and develop consensus for quality reforms to improve education results for all children.  This will ultimately involve structural tax reform that reduces the reliance on the property tax, and identifying alternative revenue sources that will allow our schools to have a stable, predictable, reliable revenue stream.

Finally, we support policies that improve access and use of technology in all public schools, believing that when used in an integrated fashion with other learning tools, technology can enhance student learning.

In a period of economic downturn and uncertainty, our challenge as a state will be to build on the successes of HB 3050 to ensure that critical school funding elements are in place to achieve educational adequacy throughout Illinois.  As we focus on this year’s state board budget, we must be clear about our priorities. Network 21 members believe that the state should not lose the progress made last year in raising the foundation level.  We would, therefore, like to urge that General State Aid be the board’s top budget priority, with a foundation level increase that moves toward the $5,000-$5,500 (1) dollar amount determined by the Augenblick & Myers Successful School District projections from their fall 2000 research for Network 21.

Network 21 also wants to advocate for a further change in the poverty eligibility threshold established in HB 3050, moving toward a ‘continuous formula’ that recognizes the additional burden placed on school districts educating students from impoverished homes.  Given the high correlation between poverty and low test scores, HB 3050 did not go far enough in addressing poverty grant issues.  Finally, with respect to identifying these at-risk students, the state must reexamine and propose better eligibility criteria for poverty grant appropriations. There are clearly many problems with using census data to identify these students.  I know that the Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB) has begun this process, and Network 21 is interested in working with EFAB to make recommendations to the state board in this area.

Network 21 also supports examining categorical grants to determine what changes might be implemented to allow for more efficient allocation of the state’s education dollars and more flexible, efficient use of these moneys by school districts.  Whether by combining different categorical programs into a series of block grants or other mechanisms, we should develop tools to allow schools to use their resources in efficient and cost-effective ways. 

Also with respect to categoricals, I want to share with you that Network 21 as a coalition and through some of its individual members, contacted the entire Illinois congressional delegation to urge that federal special education mandates be funded at the 40 percent level.  This would make an enormous difference in the resources available to the state and to local school districts.  The current special education reimbursement of $8,500, which was set in the 1980s, falls far short of covering the high costs of special education personnel.  It should be a state priority to increase resources for special education.

Network 21 is working closely with its member organizations to weigh in on the quality and accountability reforms that are clearly critical to the future of our educational system.  We are also interested in working with the state board on such issues as will be taken up by the Governor’s Education Summit next week and have been on the agendas of some of our member organizations for years, like teacher training, retention and professional development. 

Also, questions about the linkage of learning standards, teaching and assessments will be critical as we dissect why so many of our schools, particularly in urban areas and low income/low property tax communities, ended up on the academic early warning lists.  These and other quality issues will be among those that Network 21 works to shape by bringing together such a uniquely diverse coalition.

Finally, Network 21 would like to reiterate that we believe that investing additional resources in education technology will allow districts to enhance student learning by better integrating technology into teaching and curriculum development.  State board moneys allocated to technology through the Technology for Success program saw zero growth in the past year and only one percent growth in the past three years.

Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to address the board today.  Network 21 looks forward to working with you, and is glad to serve as a resource to the state board whenever possible.

Leslie B. Lipschultz, Education and Tax Policy Manager

(1) A & M used 1998-1999 data.  With inflation, this number would undoubtedly be higher.

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