Jesiel Responds to New School Funding Reform Developments

Following a series of last minute changes, the Illinois General Assembly recently approved a major overhaul of Illinois’ school funding formula. State Representative Sheri Jesiel (R-Winthrop Harbor), who served on the School Funding Reform Commission and was previously involved in extensive negotiations, expressed concerns about the approved overhaul, House Floor Amendment 5 to Senate Bill 1947:

“For close to a year, I served on the Governor’s commission to review methods to reform Illinois’ school funding formula and subsequently negotiating the creation a new evidence-based funding model. I firmly believe an evidence-based funding model is the responsible and research based approach needed to create a truly equitable funding structure to dramatically improve how schools are funded in Illinois. That being said, most residents know that I opposed Senate Bill 1 for several reasons, primarily because Senate Bill 1 included several provisions that would take funds away from our school districts and send them to CPS. In addition, some of the new provisions had significant shortcomings and virtually nothing in the bill adequately shifted school funding reliance away from local property taxes.

“When news broke last week that a new compromise had been reached to bridge the gap between the original Senate Bill 1, the Governor’s Amendatory Veto and the last Republican proposal, I was hopeful. Unfortunately, while the compromise produced in the amendment to Senate Bill 1947 was certainly an improvement on Senate Bill 1, it still contained a majority of provisions that concerned me, among them a property tax “swap” which will only help 32 of the state’s 852 school districts and is not required to be funded every year, and Illinois taxpayers are still on the hook to help pay for Chicago Public School’s mismanagement of pension funds over the last two decades.

“On the positive side, I was pleased that CPS’s normal pension cost was removed from the school funding formula and put back into the pension code, like all other school districts. In addition, some unfunded mandate relief was inserted to help school districts cut costs, but nothing in this relief is guaranteed to lead to reduced property tax levies for residents. There was also a property tax referendum component added. This component would allow residents of school districts above the 110% funding adequacy target (based on the new formula) to petition for a referendum to reduce property taxes. Unfortunately though, it falls dramatically short of what is needed to create a substantial shift away from reliance on local property taxes because only some districts would be eligible for this provision, the reduction is limited in amount and is only allowed in certain years.

“In recent months, numerous people have said, ‘don’t sacrifice the good for the perfect,’ which is a reasonable statement. I’ve had enough experience in Springfield to know that there is no such thing as a perfect bill and we must compromise to get things done, small or large. However, as I wrestled with how to vote on this new proposal, this wasn’t a choice between the good and the perfect; this was a choice between the mediocre and the bad. After spending so much time working on such an important issue, I couldn’t in good faith vote for something with such far-reaching implications which ultimately falls well short of its intended goal.

“Let me be clear again for the record, the schools and students in the 61st district are very important to me and I feel great responsibility to ensure our schools are high-quality, well-funded schools. There are certainly schools in my district who are deserving of additional funding so their students have access to as good an education as the best funded districts in the state. My parents, my children and I are products of our public schools here in this district, so my views on school funding reform are not merely through the lens of a legislator.

“Regardless of my vote, this school funding overhaul is going forward and I sincerely hope it produces positive results for school children in Illinois. If - as I fear - it doesn’t, in 10 or 15 years the legislature will be doing this all over again after letting down another generation of young Illinois students.”

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