Illinois legislators are trying to find a better way to fund education, but the current statehouse proposal, Senate Bill 16 (SB16), could wreak havoc on Homewood’s schools, according to school administrators.
Residents can voice their concerns about the proposed changes at a 6 to 9 p.m. meeting Wednesday, Nov. 5, at Thornton Township High School, 15001 Broadway in Harvey. The meeting is co-sponsored by Sen. Napoleon Harris (D-Harvey) with Rep. William Davis (D-Hazel Crest) and Rep. Thaddeus Jones (D-Dolton). Davis and Harris represent Homewood in the General Assembly.
SB16 has already been passed by the Illinois Senate. Senators Harris and Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) sponsored the measure now before the Illinois House.
SB16 is designed to level the school funding playing field by reducing state aid for wealthier districts and shifting the money to poorer districts. But the legislation will take state money from Homewood schools and Homewood-Flossmoor High School, and could force cuts in their quality educational programs.
“The board hasn’t taken a position on SB 16, but I think holistically we couldn’t be in favor of that bill as it stands because we lose $775,000 (in state funding) each year,” under this proposal, District 153 Superintendent Dale Mitchell said. “They need to go back to the drawing board. There (are) too many losers.”
Ken Parchem, business manager for Homewood-Flossmoor High School, said the district “continues to be involved in dialogue through various professional organizations” about the outcome of SB16. H-F would lose $196,500 if the bill passes.
Hutchinson, Davis and Rep. Al Riley believe the bill, in its current form, will not be called for passage but that it is a good starting point for reform. (See related story: “Legislators Look for Solutions to School Funding”) SB16 is designed to shift Illinois’ regressive state funding system “into a progressive system in which the majority of state funding is means-tested and distributed based on local ability to pay,” according to an Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) analysis.
A 2012 study by ISBE and Rutgers University showed Illinois “has the country’s second most regressive public education funding system, meaning districts with high poverty populations receive less state and local funding than their more affluent counterparts.” Illinois funds its schools primarily through the property tax. Districts in wealthier communities are able to raise more money for their schools than districts in poorer communities.
The state also provides money to schools as general state aid, but the state’s share has been declining.
According to ISBE, since 2008 the state has cut more than $861 million in general state aid to elementary and high schools. That is a nearly 12 percent reduction, even though public school enrollment levels have remained constant.
The state estimates it costs a district $6,119 to educate a student, an amount that has been stagnant since July 2011. The state calls that $6,119 a foundation level. ISBE says districts receive state support that, when combined with local tax resources, achieves the foundation level. Districts also receive state support as supplemental grants for low income students. These grants are not equalized, but based on the proportion of low income students in a district. ISBE says the amount paid through these grants increases as the proportion of low-income students in a district increases.
Related story: Legislators look for solutions to school funding challenges
Contact Marilyn Thomas at [email protected]