For years the General Assembly has been working on a fix to our state's broken school funding formula. Over time, we have found a better approach known as the "evidence-based model."

This spring we made significant progress on a bipartisan school funding bill through good faith negotiations. Though we were very close on a bipartisan compromise, my colleagues across the aisle chose to walk away from the negotiating table in late May and pass a partisan school funding bill, Senate Bill 1. I could not support this proposal, which once again singled out one school district, Chicago Public School District 299, to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in special deals. In fact, under Senate Bill 1 seven out of every ten new dollars dedicated to school funding would be directed to Chicago.

Additionally, Senate Bill 1 was not adequately funded in the budget passed by Senate Democrats in late May, and without the necessary funding would once again lead to the proration that plagued Illinois schools for years. In fact, the Democrats have not advanced a budget bill that provides the appropriate funding level required to satisfy the simulation they are promoting with Senate Bill 1.

For these reasons, the Governor has promised to veto the plan, and legislators from across the state have made it clear that they will not vote to override a veto of Senate Bill 1. This means the fate of Senate Bill 1 is clear.

However, there is an alternative that reflects a compromise worthy of bipartisan support. One in which all school districts would benefit under the more equitable formula advanced under House Bill 4069. In the spirit of compromise, the proposal adopts the overwhelming majority of Senate Bill 1. In fact, there are far more similarities between the two bills than there are differences.

Both bills utilize the same evidence-based model, as well as the same methods to deliver funding to low-income students, along with identical systems to determine cost differences between districts. In addition, both measures group districts into the same four tiers based on need and use the same local resource calculations. Further, both proposals feature the same safeguards for English learners and special education funds.

In May the sponsor of Senate Bill 1 stated that the two proposals were 95 percent the same. Now, according to the sponsor of House Bill 4069, they are nearly identical, with a few important differences.

House Bill 4069 recognizes that Chicago needs help, and it provides the school district with assistance, based on evidence-based practices and the demographics of their students. What it doesn’t offer are special deals hidden in the formula that are designed to fix the Chicago Public Schools’ broken pension system and pay off their overwhelming debt from years of fiscal mismanagement. Instead, House Bill 4069 relies on the data, and the data alone, to drive resources to the schools that need it most, including Chicago.

House Bill 4069 is good for the 20 districts in our area and for all of our state’s 852 different school districts. Unlike Senate Bill 1, the legislation does not single out one district to pit students from different regions against each other. Instead, all schools are all treated the same under a formula that is the same for everyone regardless of their zip code. In fact, recently released data from the Illinois State Board of Education shows that House Bill 4069 in its current form is unquestionably more equitable for all low-income students in Illinois.
State Representative Brad Halbrook (R-Shelbyville) opposed the last minute political games played with the school funding formula bill that would bail out Chicago schools by $500 million. Senate Bill 1 had been a bi-partisan effort to bring fairness to the funding formula and bringing relief to property tax payers, but at the last minute was amended to help Chicago Schools more at the expense of Central and southern Illinois schools. It narrowly passed with 60 yes votes and heads to the governor where it is anticipated he will veto the bill.

“It is amazing how blatant the games are to benefit one school district over the rest of our schools and students,” declared Rep. Brad Halbrook. “There was a good faith, bi-partisan effort to bring fairness to the school funding formula and bring relief to taxpayers, but that was lost at the last minutes of the regularly scheduled session. I could not in good conscience vote for SB 1 in its final form that short-changed our students here in central Illinois,” Halbrook added.

The legislature has debated the issue of school funding reform for a number of years, including this past legislative session. Many believe that we need a more equitable school funding formula in Illinois that lessens our reliance on local property taxes while providing that the State make education a higher priority. Right now, Illinois only provides 24% of total education spending.

In addition, Illinois has not had a full budget in two years. This school funding reform proposal requires $350 million in new money even though the State cannot afford to pay schools for current year programs. SB 1 would allocate the monies at a 70% - 30% ratio with 70% for Chicago that has only 23% of the students.

“I will continue to support a new formula to provide an equitable and adequate education for all two million students in Illinois public schools, and not just a select few,” concluded Halbrook. “I believe we can help schools and help taxpayers at the same time if we show the political will to do the right thing.”