Testimony to the Illinois State Board of Education on the 2004 Education Budget - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Testimony to the Illinois State Board of Education on the 2004 Education Budget

Network 21 recommendations to ISBE as it prepares its FY 2004 budget. Key recommendations include incorporating an increase in the foundation level and a change in the way the poverty grant is calculated.

Submitted by Network 21: Quality Schools for Stronger Communities
Leslie B. Lipschultz, Education and Tax Policy Manager
Metropolitan Planning Council
October 25, 2002

Good morning.  I'm Leslie Lipschultz, the 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 two year-old coalition of education, business, labor and civic organizations that share a common interest in reforming Illinois' school finance system and improving education outcomes by linking funding reforms to a quality and accountability agenda. 

Our diverse membership includes approximately 45 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. 

Our coalition has worked closely with the Education Funding Advisory Board, with the Illinois State Board of Education and with legislators to promote a quality education for every Illinois schoolchild. We were, of course, greatly disappointed last spring, as we know the Board was, in seeing education spending cut $176 million and we are concerned that the current fiscal year budget could result in additional cuts to meet the commitments that were made if new dollars are not appropriated during the veto session.  With the recent news that 80 percent of Illinois school districts are now deficit spending, it's quite clear that we have a school funding crisis that may be unparalleled in state history.

On September 5 of this year, we formally launched Network 21's "campaign" for a comprehensive education reform package , inviting the public, education community and media to two schools where we distributed bright orange lunch boxes filled with information about our reform ideas. Lunch boxes were also sent to all 177 legislators including leadership, and to the gubernatorial candidates. This package includes the critical funding components that will allow school districts to be assured of a stable, reliable, revenue stream from the state, reduced reliance on the local property tax, and an adequate foundation level of $5,500 tied to quality and accountability reforms to ensure the money is spent in a targeted way to improve student performance.  Our quality and accountability reforms include ensuring a qualified teacher in every classroom, improved and expanded early childhood education opportunities and making sure all schools are safe, in part, by recommitting to a school construction program that will allow the infrastructure backlog to continue to be reduced.

We urge also as part of our reform package that the State Board play a stepped up role in providing the tools that at-risk and failing school districts need to be successful by providing a "roadmap for reform," including specifics on how to align standards with instruction, good and timely student diagnostics and stronger information on scientifically-based teaching strategies and rigorous professional development; also, the Board must provide a high quality assessment that is clearly linked to learning standards and then hold schools accountable for student performance.

Our recommendation on the foundation level increase — which is Network 21's highest priority — is based on research done both for Network 21 and then for the Education Funding Advisory Board by Augenblick and Myers who determined that fiscally efficient, high performing Illinois school districts in which at least two-thirds of students meet Illinois Learning Standards spend approximately $5,500 per student. EFAB's recommendation on the foundation level, $5,665, is similar, having relied on the same methodology.

In addition to the foundation level increase, Network 21's other priority is reforming the poverty grant.  We agree with EFAB that the census is not a reliable measure of student poverty and support the Board's recommendation that the state move to the unduplicated Department of Human Services Count.  We differ slightly with EFAB's August 2002 Draft Report recommendation that the poverty grant eligibility should be changed to a 15 percent threshold from its current level at zero percent.  Network 21's position is that the threshold should be 10 percent poverty, and that any district that is a foundation level district — even if it does not meet the 10 percent poverty threshold — should receive at least a minimum level of funding.  (Our specific recommendations on the poverty grant will be shared with the State Board of Education in a separate mailing.)

With more than 400,000 Illinois students currently failing to meet state standards — and those are students just in our high poverty schools — and with No Child Left Behind mandating that 100 percent of students meet Illinois Learning Standards by 2014, there is great urgency in enacting a comprehensive education reform package. 

Network 21 wants to thank the State Board for commissioning the study of Illinois' high poverty schools.  This study has become Network 21's rallying cry for our efforts to demonstrate that there is an education crisis.  400,000 students failing to meet standards is a compelling number, as is 840 out of 900 high poverty schools not meeting student needs.)

Finally, Network 21 supports 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 closing, Network 21 would like to offer to help the Illinois State Board of Education educate the public about what is arguably a crisis in the Illinois education system.  We urge the Board to be a strong and vocal leader on the need to tie solving the state's fiscal crisis to resolving our education crisis.
The new governor and General Assembly must be visionary in their thinking by looking not only for the revenues to plug the budget hole, but the dollars to fill what we can call the "education hole".  Our coalition is pragmatic in acknowledging that the $5,500 foundation level increase we are supporting could be phased in over several years, so long as there is an annual adjustment for inflation.  We have put this idea "out there," in fact with legislative and gubernatorial candidates by last week circulating a pledge we are asking them to sign, committing to the necessary quality and accountability reforms and a $5,500 foundation level so that no Illinois schoolchild will be left behind.  In just a few days time, we have received signatures from 16 legislators, including 3 Republicans and an individual in leadership.  We also received an inquiry from one of the gubernatorial staffs about our pledge.  Next week we'll be releasing the list of signatories to the media and to the public.

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.


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