State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) is warning that, if the state budget crisis isn't resolved soon, schools across Illinois will face major funding. We explain why low-income schools will be hit much harder than wealthier ones.
If State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia (D- Aurora) is correct, schools across Illinois are about to face a serious funding crunch. As chair of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Appropriations Committee, Chapa LaVia has been working the numbers. And she is now warning that the FY 2011 state budget could include a 10 percent cut in General State Aid (GSA). The news shouldn't come as a surprise. For sometime now, education officials have warned that without new revenue, there's simply no way to rein in Illinois' $12.8 billion deficit without hacking away at school budgets.
But here's the kicker: When those cuts come down, the poorest districts in Illinois will take the biggest hit.
To understand how that's possible, you'll need a quick primer on the way state school funding is distributed:
The General State Aid Formula is based around the "foundation level" (FL). This is the minimum amount of per-student spending that the state has determined is necessary to maintain an adequate education. For the current school year, the FL in Illinois was set at $6,119.
In calculating the amount of aid a particular district will receive, the formula first takes into account how much of the FL is covered by local property tax revenue and then sorts the districts into three groups:
Foundation Formula: If a district's tax base provides less than 93 percent of the FL, the state essentially covers the difference. (The poorest of these districts also qualify for a separate flat grant of at least $355 per student.)
Alternative Formula: If a district's tax base provides between 93 percent and 175 percent of the FL, they get additional per-student funding that amounts to 5-7 percent of the FL (or between $306 and $428 in 2009/2010).
Flat-grant Formula: If a district's tax base provides over 175 percent of the FL, they receive a flat grant of $218 per student.
For more detail regarding these respective formulas, check out the Illinois Board of Education's full run-down here (PDF).
This year, 735 of the state's 878 districts (78 percent) fell under the foundation formula, 16 percent fell under the alternative formula, and 6 percent qualified for flat grants.
Obviously, the poorer a district is, the more it relies on GSA. And the more it relies on GSA, the more it will be hurt by a 10 percent cut. The Beacon-News illustrated this disparity with some specific examples:
So if all other factors remain the same as last year, a 10 percent reduction in the foundation level could cut more than $7.1 million from the low-income East Aurora School District's state aid, but only $732,000 from St. Charles schools.
In short, these sort of cuts will only exacerbate our already-inequitable school funding system.
But it gets worse. The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability's Ralph Martire tells us that those families in lower-income districts are likely to get hit with higher property tax rates as local governments "try to squeeze every nickle they can out of their communities for education and basic services."
In the end, Martire says, more education cuts will speed up Illinois' race to the bottom on school spending. "We're already 49th out of 50," Martire says. "Now maybe we'll fall in last place." And more and more of the state's schools will be that much farther from reaching the Education Funding Advisory Board's (EFAB) recommendation of a $6,405 foundation level.
"We know what produces results," Martire says. "Smaller class sizes, highly trained teachers, enrichment activities. Guess what? All of those things cost more money than we're putting into schools."
Chalk this up as yet another reason why the state is in dire need of new revenue.