By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois could change the way it pays for public schools.
Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, has a plan. He wants to put Illinois’ $6 billion in school spending in a big pile and hand it out based on need.
“We’re going to put 96 percent of what we appropriate through the ‘equity lens’, that’s the proposal,” he said Monday. “We (will) attach money to goals and outcomes — identifying students that are at risk, identifying students that are English language learners.”
Money for now falls into some nine categories and, said Manar, need is a factor in fewer than half of those. Illinois would not spend any new money under his plan. Rather, it would spend it differently.
“While we could have a rigorous debate about the levels we fund schools, we’ll never have that debate until we get the distribution formula right,” Manar said.
If the state is going to pay less for schools, says LeRoy schools Superintendent Gary Tipsord,the state should get less of a say in how schools spend their money.
“Think of it like a business. If you are a minority investor, why should you have the greatest say in the outcomes at the local level?” Tipsord asked. “If my local investors, my local taxpayers, are footing 75 percent to 80 percent of the bill, why shouldn’t they have the greatest say in the expectations of LeRoy schools?”
Tipsord would like to get some leeway from the state for assessments and standardized tests and tailor them to his district. As the state pays less for local schools and local taxpayers pay more, it becomes all about control.
“Should education in every community, every town, every city, every type of school, should it look exactly the same as everybody else?”
Tipsord thinks schools should have the local flexibility to make their own decisions.
That could happen, Manar said.
It should happen, said Joshua Dwyer, director of education reform at the Illinois Policy Institute.
“There was a bill last year that would have allowed districts to not be forced to abide by the state mandates if the state was more than two months past due on payment to the district. This could potentially help local school districts have more freedom in their curriculum and administrative procedures,” Dwyer said. “In general, many researchers and educators believe that the more local the decision-making the better.”
A wave of local control and school choice appears in Illinois this year seems unlikely. But, Tipsord said, Illinois lawmakers could at least be honest with local schools about the money schools won’t be getting.
“If they could create some predictability in the budget process,” Tipsord said. “Whether that means if they change the budget cycle, and they let us know of a calendar-year basis. Or if they would do a multi-year budget cycle for education.”
As it stands, Tipsord and schools across the state are making budget decisions this month while lawmakers won’t even start talking about a new state budget until the end of March.
Listen to Benjamin Yount’s interview with Manar on Illinois Watchdog Radio.
You can reach Benjamin Yount at [email protected] and find him on Twitter @BenYount.