A move by the state of Illinois to shift some special education funds away from schools now pits the suburbs against other parts of the state former Chicago schools CEO Paul Vallas said. This is because a district could typically raise more money through property taxes (Vallas Statement). Those geographic splits ultimately will impede education funding reforms, he said.
“Making changes in the existing formula and trying to make a bad formula better without providing for meaningful increases in funding is only going to divide the education community,” Vallas said. Vallas, a Palos Heights resident and 2014 former running mate of Gov. Pat Quinn, made the remarks to the Daily Herald following the Illinois State Board of Ed’s (ISBE) recent decision to push special education dollars into the general state aid pot. That source of money, used to offset the basic costs of educating students,” is distributed through a formula based largely on a district’s ability to levy local taxes.
Under the state funding formula, districts with rich property tax bases could lose up to $106 per student per year. An initial analysis by the state board shows the change would decrease the amount of state funding for dozens of districts in suburban Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties.
Until this year, funding for programs such as special education and transportation have been based on the number of students in those programs, regardless of the strength of a district’s property tax base.
By giving the general state aid fund an estimated $300 million more of special education dollars next year, ISBE Chief Financial Officer Robert Wolf said. the state should be able to increase the amount of general state aid per student, with school districts left on their own to determine how much should be apportioned for special education services. While this does give local school boards more autonomy in how they allocate for special versus general education, there is an inherent risk. Because the new formula provides less funding to school districts with higher property taxes, it is possible that Chicago’s suburban schools, which has generally had very strong special ed services, may now cut them back.
Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54, which spends $13,278 per student, would lose $61 per student in state funds per year under the shift. Barrington Area Unit District 220, meanwhile, which spends $16,178 per student, would lose $79 per student with the change. And Palatine District 15 would lose $52 per student, per year from the state. It spends a total of $12,363 per student each year.
Districts with more low-income students and lower property tax bases would see gains. Elgin Area School District U-46, which spent $10,672 per student this year, would gain an average of $289 per student in state funds. Indian Prairie Unit District 204 in Aurora, which spent $11,075, would see gains of $168 per pupil from the state.
Illinois’ current funding formula often is regarded as outdated, but the state’s divided government has found little consensus to fix it.
Echoing GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner’s calls in last week’s State of the State Address, Vallas says boosting overall education funding and then fixing the formula is the only surefire path to change.
Once again, the Illinois budget dysfunction has led to a reversal on how equitable distribution of special education funding should be addressed—by changing the funding formula without a state approved plan for overall funding. The polarization that is already hurting the state’s ability to function has potentially opened a new battleground when parents with special needs children in high property tax districts feel that the services they need have been cut as their property taxes continue to rise.
Robert Hoyt, Ph.D.
Allied Health Professionals LLC