WIUM Tristates Public Radio

The Push for Education Funding Reform in Illinois

Apr 12, 2015

A measure of particular interest to many downstate educators is the School Funding Reform Act of 2015.  It’s Senate Bill 1, which means it was the first piece of legislation introduced in the Senate this session.

“That was a choice of the Senate Democratic Caucus,” said bill sponsor, State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill). “I think that shows how significant the bill is and how important it is that we have something reformed when it comes to school funding in the state of Illinois this year.”

Manar and State Senator John Sullivan (D-Rushville) talked about the bill during a meeting in Macomb hosted by the Association of Illinois Rural and Small Schools (AIRSS).

Manar said the bill will simplify how state dollars are distributed to schools, and it will fund districts according to student need and local ability to pay.  He said there is a great disparity in the amount of base funding support districts across Illinois need from the state.

AIRSS Executive Director David Ardrey addresses the audience during the forum at the Spoon River College Community Outreach Center in Macomb.
Credit Rich Egger

The measure is based on legislation introduced last year – Senate Bill 16 – which passed in the Senate but did not come up for a vote in the House.  Manar said changes were made to improve the legislation and he said the bill could be altered more this year as it goes through the process.

“We’re trying to undo decades of inaction. So that’s going to take many voices, many perspectives,” Manar said. The senator added he believes the bill meets the needs of rural school districts.

Senate Bill 1 is one of many issues awaiting lawmakers when they return to Springfield this week. David Ardrey, Executive Director of AIRSS, hopes the bill will pass this year though it’s difficult to predict what will happen.

“What I’m more hopeful about is that Senator Manar has the conversation on the table. He’s not going to back down (and) we’re not going to waiver in our support of change in this state for school funding,” said Ardrey.

“So I don’t think this conversation is going to go away. Will it pass this year? I don’t know. Will it pass in this state some day? I think it will.”

Ardrey said AIRSS formed in 1987. He said it’s an educational not-for-profit organization that focuses on issues in rural schools.

When asked what’s the biggest challenge facing rural and small school districts, Ardrey replied:

”Funding. Period.”

And he said until the state’s school funding formula is changed, rural and small school districts will suffer.