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Illinois' K-12 Funding System Might be Changed to Resemble California's

A proposal to overhaul Illinois' education funding system, made by the state senate education commitee, aims to streamline how state funding flows to districts, provide weighted funding for "at-risk" students, and provide minimum state funding levels for districts. 

For fiscal 2014, the state provided $6.7 billion in P-12 education to districts, but as the report outlinine the proposal says, the system distributes the money through a variety of programs that separately cover everything from transportation and special education to supplemental grants and bilingual education.

"Having a state system with so many different funding sourceseach with their own rules, regulations, and paperworkleads to a K-12 finance system that lacks clarity and predictability," according to the committee's findings. 

So what's the solution? The committee proposes ten changes to the current system. Chief among them are the creation of a single funding formula that combines several of the aforementioned programs and is weighted to help at-risk (defined as low-income) students, require districts to be more transparent about their spending practices, and guarantee a minimum level of funding from the state to districts. It would also provide a hold-harmless provision that wouldn't cut district funding below current levels for a certain period if this new system were to be adopted.

Students would be classifed as low-income if they received assistance from the state Department of Human Services—right now, nearly 1.1 million students in the state fit that description. The proposed funding formula would provide additional funding to districts "by providing these students with an additional weight of 0.25 in the formula.

Here's a visual of how the formula would look, compared to the current system:

IllinoisFunding3.PNGIf some of this sounds familiar, there might be a good reason. California's 2013 overhaul of K-12 funding, under the new Local Control Funding Formula, was also predicated on cutting down on the state bureaucracy that oversaw different state public-school spending programs. And California's new formula also focused on at-risk, defined as economically needy, students and assigned them a certain higher weight. (To be fair, as this Education Commission of the States' paper from 2012 demonstrates, weighting students based on their needs or background is far from rare.)

In addition, the California formula demands that districts be more transparent about spending—in the Golden State's case, this means increasing public involvement in developing local public-school budgets, as well as demonstrating how those local budgets match state K-12 policy priorities.

One key difference worth pointing out is that, while California's state funding is due to rise as its new formula is implemented, there's no explicit guarantee of new, higher funding levels through this new formula proposed in Illinois. However, the Illinois senate report does say this: "In addition, the Committee recognizes the need for an increase in educational funding but also acknowledges the current fiscal crisis in Illinois. The Committee believes that the General Assembly should work, over the next 5-7 years, to increase educational funding to the level necessary to reach the recommended foundation level provided by the Education Funding Advisory Board of $8,672." (That last number is a per-pupil figure.)

Illinois and California are two of the top five states in terms of school enrollment, and combined, they educate about 8.4 million students, according to recent enrollment data used by the National Assessment for Educational Progress. It will be interesting to see if their K-12 funding systems begin to mirror each other in key ways. 

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