Adequacy funding goal poses an enormous fiscal challenge

Adequacy funding goal poses an enormous fiscal challenge

(Ill.) After failing for many years to provide the necessary resources to the state’s neediest schools, the Illinois Legislature faces an almost impossible task of finding the billions of dollars required to equalize funding.

In 2017, lawmakers tore up the state’s existing funding formula—considered among the least equitable in the U.S.—and replaced it with a system designed to give each school district the amount of money it needs to provide “an adequate level of education” to the students they serve.

The problem, the Illinois State Board of Education reported late last month, is that the 2019 appropriation for K-12 schools falls close to $7.4 billion short of what is needed.

Moreover, that adequacy goal will continue to remain elusive based on current funding projects—perhaps as long as 31 years, according to new analysis.

“It’s crucial we start making these needed, long-term fiscal structural reforms or we cannot fund fully the evidence-based formula,” said Ralph Martire, president of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability. “And we will just continue to shortchange the education for millions of children in our state.”

The new funding formula, signed into law by former Gov. Bruce Rauner, establishes an “adequacy target” for each school district that takes into account total enrollment, as well as the percentage of students that are low-income, with disabilities and English-leaners.

As the state rolled out its first review of the statewide needs, they reported that only 16 percent of Illinois’ 853 school district had received the amount of money needed to meet the new adequacy standard.

On the flip side, the vast majority of the local educational agencies in the state—some 713—were not getting what they needed.

As a result, the $7.9 billion set aside by the Legislature this year to cover the new adequacy goal falls about $7.4 billion short. And, because current law only requires the state to increase the minimum amount for the program by $350 million annually, the state is not likely to reach its goal anywhere close to the 2027 deadline.

More likely, it will take until 2051.

Advocates for the program are calling on lawmakers to nearly double the allocation to more quickly reach the adequacy goal.

Martire and his organization have suggested either an increase of $779 million, which would bring the goal within reach in 10 years; or an increase of $1.6 billion to get the job done within 5 years.

“The report illustrates that an extraordinary funding effort is necessary to move Illinois’ children to adequacy,” State Representative Will Davis told the Daily Journal. “If we believe in what we seek to accomplish, additional resources are necessary.”

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