School-funding bill undergoes changes

Written By ELISE DISMER Posted: 05/20/2014, 10:56pm

SPRINGFIELD—A lawmaker tacked on a new part Tuesday to the overhaul of the school funding formula that gives school districts the ability to opt out of the mandatory education like drivers’ education, anti-bullying and black history.

The move by state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, satisfied some suburban lawmakers whose schools would be net losers under his plan, but it angered at least one key African-American lawmaker in the process.

Manar’s legislation passed 8-5 in the Senate Education Committee and goes to the floor.

Manar said his newest amendment deals with unfunded mandates, requirements that the state makes without providing schools the financial means to do so.

“This is an issue that continually comes up,” he said, describing the latest change as “my best attempt to come up with a list of instructional mandates that could be added to the current process for how districts opt out of them.” 

Senate Bill 16 aims to tackle the inequities in the state’s funding of public education by rewriting the school funding formula based on student need—a move that inherently creates “winner” and “loser” districts. 

Manar’s newest amendment gives school districts the opportunity to skip out on the instruction of the following topics: drivers’ education; daily physical education; avoiding abduction; internet safety; the Holocaust and genocides; black history; women’s history; United States’ history; disability history; the disability rights movement; charter school education; consumer education; natural resources; steroid use and prevention; requirements applicable to sex education courses; patriotism and representative government; and violence prevention and conflict resolution.

It would also allow schools to stop observing certain holidays—Leif Erickson Day, Arbor Day, Bird Day, American Indian Day, Illinois Law Week, “Just Say No” Day—as well as watching a Congressional Medal of Honor film.

Those exemptions would be available to all school districts across the state for school years 2014, 2015 and 2016. After those three years, Manar said he thought it would be good to assess the impact of those changes.

But his changes didn’t go over well with one African-American member of the Senate Executive Committee.

“There’s about six or seven measures right off the bat that I’d like to pull from the list,” said Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood. “I mean, really, some of these things make absolutely no sense to remove from the school code.”

Lightford, who voiced her concerns over drivers’ education and black history education, said this effort should be entirely separate from the school funding formula bill.

“I think that this is the wrong thing to do,” Lightford said. “Mandates addressing mandates has nothing to do with the school funding formula. It shouldn’t be a part of this bill.”

But Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, said this was the appropriate place to address mandates because it made the rest of the bill more palatable for districts expecting to lose from the changes in the formula overall.

 “As someone who represents again quote exclusively loser districts and significant loser districts, I’m in a position of trying to understand how to do what I think is the right thing for the state, but also allow these districts to persist,” Biss said. “I think the mandate could be a really important tool to achieve that goal.”

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