A bill that would change how the state distributes state aid to local school districts to direct more state dollars to poorer school districts has passed the Illinois Senate but faces an uncertain future in the House.
Senate Bill 231 passed the state Senate on May 10 by an almost straight party-line vote of 31 to 21, with three members voting present. The chief sponsor of the bill is State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill). Manar’s bill would change the general state aid funding formula to direct more state dollars to poorer school districts.
State Sen. Steven Landek (D-Bridgeview), whose 12th District includes Riverside north of the BNSF tracks and a majority of Brookfield south of 31st Street, missed the vote because he was not in Springfield that day.
Landek said he thinks that it is unlikely that Manar’s bill would become law as written.
“I think it’s a good start,” Landek said. “I think we need to talk about school funding, but whether that’s the exact bill I don’t know if it’s quite there yet.”
Most observers agree with Landek and believe that the Manar bill would have to be substantially changed for it to pass in the House.
“I think on its own it would be difficult to get that bill through,” said Steve Brown, the spokesman for powerful House Speaker Mike Madigan.
State Rep. Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside) said that he would have trouble supporting the bill as written, because most local school districts in the 23rd District he serves — including Riverside north of Herrick Road and portions of Brookfield — would see their state aid eventually be reduced under the bill.
An analysis of Manar bill by the Illinois State Board of Education indicated that all school districts in the Riverside, Brookfield, and North Riverside area, except for Lyons-Brookfield District 103, would eventually see a reduction of state aid if the Manar bill becomes law.
“I would probably at this point still have challenges voting for it,” Zalewski said. “I want to be clear I think Senator Manar has done an excellent job of bringing a difficult issue to the forefront, and he’s forced a conversation that a lot of people were uncomfortable having for 20 years.
“But until we figure out the structural deficit in terms of the overall budget, I think it’s very difficult for us to tackle educational funding reform at this point.”
The state has been without an overall budget for nearly 11 months.
The House has a committee that has been looking at changing the way the state distributes money to local school districts, and that committee will look to incorporate parts of the Manar bill into its proposal, which has yet to be revealed.
“I’m sure they’ll look at the Manar bill,” Brown said of the House committee led by House Majority Leader, Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago). “We’ll want to take the good elements of it as best we can and combine it with what the House is ultimately going to propose and see if we can bring some equity into the whole school funding situation. It’s a complicated issue, obviously.”
With only two weeks left in the legislative session, the General Assembly still has not passed any bill authorizing state aid to local school districts next year. Zalewski said that the legislature will come up with something and not leave local districts without any state aid. Most of the funding for local school districts comes from local property taxes.
“I think we will send something to the governor for his review, similar to what we did last year,” Zalewski said. “Last year he signed a K through 12 education bill. He signed it in full. He didn’t make any reductions.”
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner says that he would rather concentrate for now on increasing state aid for schools and worry about changing the funding formula later.
Rauner has called for the legislature to authorize an additional $120 million for state aid to local school districts, enough to fully fund general state aid for the first time in seven years.
Brown said that he’s not sure if the state aid funding formula will be changed this year.
“We’ll see how it all shakes out,” Brown said. “I don’t do predictions as a matter of course and certainly wouldn’t want to do one on an issue like this.”