Illinois House panel seeks school funding reform proposal

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The latest group of Illinois lawmakers to tackle the way the state finances public schools hopes to propose a new funding model and approve it this spring.

The House panel, which met for the first time Tuesday, aims to pick up where members say a previous commission convened by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner left off. That commission made funding recommendations last month but produced no legislation.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan called together the group of 13 Democrats and 13 Republicans to address lawmakers' remaining questions - including the decades-old concern that Illinois relies too heavily on property taxes to fund schools.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago, the panel's chairwoman, said the previous commission made clear that Illinois must do more to support lower-income school districts - but failed to reach consensus on how to do so.

"It is our task to try to move forward and see if we can fill in the blanks," Currie said.

The panel's minority spokesman, Rep. Robert Pritchard of Hinckley, also pledged Republican support for moving legislation this session to overhaul the current funding formula.

The governor's commission focused its suggestions on a model that considers a school district's students - in terms of poverty, the number who are not proficient in English, or who have disabilities - and the strength of the local property tax base in determining how much state aid it receives.

But panel members are re-examining that framework - called the "evidence-based model" for its focus on ensuring schools have the funds necessary to pay for smaller class sizes and other practices known to work - to determine whether it's the right answer for Illinois.

The state currently supports schools by providing every district with $6,119 per student, along with grants for students who have special needs, are low-income or are not English-proficient.

Ben Boer, deputy director for Advance Illinois, testified that the evidence-based model would help students succeed by focusing new funds where they are most needed.

But no district would lose money, experts testified, because the model does not reallocate per-pupil funds districts currently receive.

To make it work, they said, the state must contribute more money.

Democratic Rep. Fred Crespo of Hoffman Estates cautioned that the funding mechanism behind the model needs more attention.

Rauner's commission reported the state would need to contribute an additional $3.5 to $6 billion for the model over the next ten years - but that estimate did not account for inflation.

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Follow Kiannah Sepeda-Miller at https://twitter.com/kiannahsepeda .

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