All Press Items

March 17, 2023

If you live long enough, you might get to see something remarkable, like a solar eclipse, or possibly even Halley’s Comet. But if you’re really fortunate, you’ll get to witness a truly rare event—like enactment of major, bi-partisan legislation that actually does what its supporters promised. For once, the good people of Illinois officially fall into the “really fortunate” category. That’s because the state’s new school funding formula, the “Evidence Based Formula for Student Success” or “EBF,” which passed with strong bi-partisan support, is in fact delivering the goods.

Before the EBF, Illinois had one of the worst school funding formulas in the nation. It was so bad, the respected Education Trust ripped Illinois’ formula for creating “by far the largest [funding] gap” in America between districts with the greatest and lowest concentrations of poverty. It also resulted in significant funding gaps along racial and ethnic lines. 

The end result: schools in low-income communities generally, and Black and Brown communities specifically, were consistently under-resourced. This put kids attending those schools at an educational disadvantage vis-a-vis their peers in better funded, typically more affluent areas.

Adding insult to injury, funding levels under Illinois’ old formula were based on what decision-makers felt the state could afford, rather than any actual cost of educating children. Predictably, divorcing school funding from educational costs created a public school system that didn’t have adequate resources to educate all the students it served. 

The EBF’s supporters claimed the legislation would fix things in two fundamental ways. First, rather than blindly throw money into public education, the EBF would tie the dollar amount taxpayers invest in schools to covering the cost of educational practices that evidence showed actually enhanced student achievement.

What a concept — fund what works. 

Second, the EBF would invest fairly in educating students whom the old formula left behind, by ensuring that most new funding would go to the neediest schools — i.e. those furthest from having the resources the evidence indicates is required to educate their student populations. Hence, children attending historically underfunded schools across Illinois could expect a greater investment in their education. 

Sounds great, but what happened when the rubber met the road? The data indicate the EBF is working exactly as promised. Since it passed in fiscal year 2018, Illinois has invested nearly $1.6 billion more in public education. Fully 99% of this new investment has gone to schools with the least adequate funding levels, making a tremendous difference for poor kids.

In FY 2018, a typical low-income student in Illinois attended a school that had $3,695 less in per-pupil funding than what the evidence indicated it needed. That gap had declined to $2,658 by FY 2023. 

Better yet, children of every race and in every region of Illinois have benefited. For instance, since the EBF’s inception, the greatest average annual per pupil distribution of new funding made in any region of Illinois went to Downstate schools, where the student population is predominately white. Meanwhile, Black students faced an average per-pupil funding gap of $3,770 in FY 2018. That gap is now down to $2,628, while the average per-pupil funding gap faced by Latino students dropped from $3,958 in FY 2018 to $2,830 in FY2023. 

So yes, the EBF works as promised. That said, there remains one key concern: under-resourced schools can’t implement all the evidence-based practices students need to achieve academically, until the EBF is fully funded. 

As of today, the legislation is underfunded by over $3.6 billion. Under the statute, Illinois is supposed to increase K-12 funding annually by at least $300 million. But at that rate, the EBF won’t be fully funded until FY 2038 — meaning another generation of school children will be lost to an underfunded system. Bumping that annual funding increase up to $500 million, however, would fully fund the EBF by 2030, and ensure the promise of creating an equitably funded school system isn’t unduly delayed. 

Source: Chicago Sun-Times