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Study pushes for equity in Illinois' school funding

By KERRY LESTER Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - A new report by a state Senate education committee says that streamlining Illinois' school funding formula would provide better equity to all districts.

According to the document released Friday evening, putting the vast majority of state funds into one pot, then dividing up resources based on need, would serve as a fairer distribution method than the current system, which factors in a district's poverty for some types of state aid but not others and also treats funding for Chicago schools differently.

As the state grapples with an estimated loss of $1.5 billion in revenue if lawmakers allow the temporary income tax increase to expire as scheduled next January, committee members say it's an ideal time to have a conversation about changes.

"Whatever money we have, we'd like for schools to be funded fairly," state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, an Okawville Republican and co-chair of the eight-member committee, said.

Overspending and a $100 billion pension shortfall put Illinois in dire financial shape in recent years, with crucial money being stripped away from schools as a backlog of bills piled up.

Since 2009, Illinois schools have seen over $800 million in cuts, according to the state Board of Education.

Democratic State Sen. Andy Manar, the education committee's other co-chair, said he became more aware of the impact of such cuts when his son's elementary school art class was moved to a janitor's closet to save the Bunker Hill School District money.

As it stands now, Illinois schools get their money from the state in a variety of ways. In addition to "general state aid" - money distributed to districts to help offset the basic cost of educating students- schools get separate grant money to fund specific programs, including transportation, special education and vocational training.

While general state aid is divvied up based on districts' respective poverty levels and various aspects to determine need, much of the other grant funding is not.

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