The Education Funding Advisory Board recommends a $72 million foundation level increase ($120 per student) for FY 2003 despite budget constraints.
The Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB), created in 1997 to advise the legislature and governor on education funding policy, met Nov. 29, 2001 to determine an interim recommendation to the Illinois General Assembly for an increase in the foundation level to the state's schools for FY 2003.
The foundation level represents the minimum amount per pupil guaranteed to local school districts. If local revenues do not generate sufficient dollars to meet this level, the state makes up the difference. Over the longer term, EFAB will develop a comprehensive plan for school funding reform, including early childhood education, with a report to the General Assembly planned for early 2003.
EFAB has sought to raise the foundation level as a means of providing sufficient resources to districts to meet high educational standards. Yet, a poor economic picture in Illinois since last spring, but particularly since Sept. 11, 2001, has sharply reduced state revenues. Based on projections that new growth this year will reach $500 million, approximately $170 million should be available for K-12 schools if the governor meets his pledge that 51 percent of all new revenues will be appropriated for education. (This represents approximately two-thirds of $255 million; the remaining moneys would be set aside for higher education and other education programs.)
Armed with these economic growth projections, EFAB determined that a foundation level increase of $120 per student, which would cover the cost of living increase from the fall of 2000 to the fall of 2001 (calculated to be somewhere between 2.1 and 2.6 percent using the CPI), is a realistic number. The new foundation level would then be $4,680 per student for FY 2003. Based on the projected number of students for the 2002-2003 school year, this will cost the state $72 million (including the cost of the additional hold harmless obligation). The foundation level was increased $135 per student in 2001.
Other increased obligations beyond General State Aid that the state must meet for education funding include retirement, mandated categoricals and others. At this time, the increase for retirement is estimated to be $122 million, with approximately a $75 million increase for mandated categoricals. Total, the state spends more than $8 billion on K-12 education.
EFAB also voted to extend the continuing appropriation and hold harmless provisions for one year. The continuing appropriation provides a funding level for each school based on student attendance. The hold harmless provision protects school districts from losing too much state aid in the event of property wealth or attendance changes; under the current formula, all districts will be entitled to receive no less than the amount of state aid they received in 1997-98.
EFAB will also make an interim recommendation to the legislature regarding poverty level grants, pending completion of a study by the Illinois Department of Human Services to determine a better poverty measure than the census. Historically, census data has been used to appropriate these moneys as part of General State Aid to schools. The census count has been troubling to many school districts because it quickly becomes unreliable, given the high mobility of low-income families and changing economic circumstances of many others. Illinois schools are still receiving poverty grant dollars based on the 1990 census, and will likely not receive the new census data in time to use it for FY 2003 appropriations. The Department of Human Services measure, based on an Ohio model, will use data based on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps, Medicaid and Kid Care to produce an unduplicated count of low income students for all school districts. Such a figure, if adopted by the state to replace the census, could be updated annually or every two years to provide a more accurate and reliable count to meet the needs of schools serving low-income children.
Network 21: Quality Schools and Stronger Communities (organized by MPC) testified at the meeting in support of changing the poverty grant program to use a continuous, or linear formula. The present formula gives the same dollar amount per pupil if the district has a poverty concentration of 20 percent up to 34.9 percent, for example, despite research showing that education performance declines as poverty concentration increases. EFAB will consider recommending a change to the formula when the poverty count measure recommendation is made. EFAB additionally expressed concern about the poverty grant threshold having been lowered to zero last legislative session, having only recommended a drop to 15 percent. EFAB had also recommended last year that the poverty grant be a percentage of the foundation level rather than the fixed dollar amount it is currently.
Based on the Augenblick and Myers research completed for Network 21, the coalition will continue to advocate for a foundation level that more closely approximates the $5,000-$5,500 per pupil that was identified as the basic cost of an education in high performing, fiscally efficient school districts where at least two-thirds of students met or exceeded Illinois learning standards. (This cost excludes capital, transportation, special education and other special programs.) The more recent Augenblick and Myers research conducted for EFAB produced similar results. Adjusted for the CPI and a weighted average of the three different school district types (elementary, high school and units), the recommended foundation level would be $6,151 per student (as compared with the present level of $4,560).
Clearly, we have a long way to go to ensure that every child in Illinois has an adequate education. The Network 21 education, civic, business and civil rights coalition will continue to work with the Education Funding Advisory Board, legislators and others to develop foundation level and other school finance recommendations that permit all children access to a quality education. We will also continue our efforts to develop consensus for the quality reforms that ensure that resources are deployed wisely.