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Senate approves overhaul of education funding

SPRINGFIELD—Over opposition from suburban and downstate lawmakers, the Senate moved Tuesday to revamp the state’s school funding formula, which hasn’t been touched in 17 years.

The measure, sponsored by freshman Sen. Andy Manar, passed in the Senate 32-19 with hearty applause from Democrats and now goes to the House.

“I don’t want anybody to think that the situation we face today is anything but dire; that, in my mind, causes for a systemic change,” said Manar, D-Bunker Hill, during floor debate. “This bill is not done…but what it is is a meaningful step forward, one that we need desperately in the state today.”

Manar’s bill would restructure how the state funds public schools by reducing state aid from wealthier districts and diverting it to “needier” districts, like districts that deal with more low-income students, students who speak limited English or students who must travel farther distances to get to and from school.

Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, who voted “yes” for Senate Bill 16, agreed that the present system was flawed.

“We are subsidizing the wealthy, and we are not making sense with school funding,” Haine said.

But Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, who stood against the measure, said Manar’s bill was not the solution.

“If this bill becomes law, the one objective measuring stick that we have, to say ‘Are we funding to the degree that we said we would?’ would be changed and would be changed dramatically,” Righter said. “That is the foundation level—the $6,119 per child that this General Assembly and this government have said is the absolute minimum per child you can spend in each school and give them an adequate education. Under Senate Bill 16, that number is no longer locked in statute.”

Under Manar’s bill, the state would send districts money based primarily on need.

Many collar counties would take a hit if the bill becomes law. In hopes to lessen the negative impact on districts, Manar has capped the amount of money a school district can “lose” in the matter at $1,000 per pupil.

Despite this, Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, said Manar’s formula was not the “prudent” thing to do because it hurts hundreds of school districts.

“This plan does not improve funding; it disguises it. You’re shuffling the education deck, but you’re adding no new cards,” Dillard said. “I’ve got a plaque in my office of Abraham Lincoln that says, ‘You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong,’ and that’s what this does, particularly with suburban schools.”

Nevertheless, Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, who represents “losing” districts of his own, said he’d still vote for the bill because it helps the greater good.

“When core values upon which our society is founded are at stake, they have to trump everything else,” Biss said. “It’s not an easy vote for me. It’s going to make a complicated summer for me. But it is clearly, members, clearly the right thing to do.”