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School funding data fuels debate

BY KERRY LESTER Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Newly released figures that show downstate school districts gaining at the expense of suburban ones have fueled a debate among lawmakers about a proposed overhaul of the complicated school funding formula that Illinois has used for almost two decades.

The state Board of Education database, released Wednesday, details the estimated impact to the state's 860 school districts under state Sen. Andy Manar's proposed school funding fix, perhaps the most serious effort to overhaul the state's school funding formula since 1997.

Advocates say the database more clearly illustrates how the proposal would provide equity to rich and poor districts across Illinois.

Under the proposed plan, the vast majority of total state education funding would be distributed by factoring in districts' poverty levels.

But the specifics of how much money school districts stand to gain or lose also points up the political risk for lawmakers being asked to vote for such legislation during an election year.

School districts in the Chicago and St. Louis suburbs would see major cuts to state aid, and lawmakers in vulnerable swing districts may be hesitant to anger voters.

"It looks like, yet again, this is an attempt to reach into the suburban pockets to solve other people's problem," Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy, said in response to the numbers.

The chances for passage of the funding overhaul this spring are limited, but advocates are pushing hard to build support for it.

A group of downstate school superintendents packed a news conference Thursday at the state Capitol building to detail hardships their districts are enduring during tough financial times including school closings, staff and program cuts.

"We don't think we should be unduly burdened due to our poverty," Pana District Superintendent David Lett told reporters.

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