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September 17, 2011

In a recent report evaluating states on school funding fairness, Illinois has the undistinguished honor of being one of only a handful of states receiving an "F" grade. Illinois received this "F" on a measure of funding distribution, or the extent to which the state directs more funding to high poverty districts. Illinois ranked less than stellar in the other three indicators in the report, also.

Unsurprisingly, there are two lawsuits in state court challenging this faulty distribution.

The report, "Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card -- 2nd Edition", is coauthored by Bruce Baker of the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center (ELC), and Danielle Farrie, Research Director for ELC.

First issued in 2010, the report is built on the principle that predictable, stable and equitable state systems of school finance are the essential precondition for the delivery of a high-quality education. Without this foundation, efforts to improve the nation's schools will fall flat. To sustain and improve upon the condition and performance of schools across the country, states need to implement funding systems that provide sufficient funding that is fairly distributed to account for the needs of students, especially low income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

The Report Card evaluates states on four separate, but interrelated, "fairness indicators" -- funding level, funding distribution, state fiscal effort, and public school coverage. Illinois performs poorly on funding distribution and coverage and is below average on funding level and effort.

Illinois receives an "F" on funding distribution, as it has in the reports' two previously published rankings. Illinois' funding system is the second most regressive in the country. Students in the state's highest poverty districts receive dramatically less funding per pupil than do the state's wealthiest. On average, a low poverty district (0% poverty) receives $11,312 per student. A high poverty district (with a Census poverty rate of 30%) can expect about $8,707 per pupil, or 77% of the funding that the low poverty district receives. So high poverty districts, with their extra needs, have only 77 cents to spend for every dollar consumed by low poverty districts.

This illogical and inequitable funding system defies both common sense and research which states that extra resources are required to compensate for the challenges facing districts serving low-income students.

Illinois also ranks below the national average on funding level. So in addition to distributing funding regressively, the overall funding levels are low. Using figures adjusted to allow state-to-state comparisons, the report finds that the average funding level in Illinois is $9,841 per pupil. That is over $900 less than the national average.

Illinois has made some improvement in terms of effort. The state moved from a "D" to a "C" in the recent report by devoting a larger share of its revenue to funding schools. This increased effort resulted in an additional $721 per pupil from 2007 to 2009. However, its effort level still lags behind most other states as does its funding level.

The final indicator is coverage -- a measure that evaluates the share of school-age children attending public school and the median household income of those children compared to those who do not. Illinois falls in the bottom third on this measure with only 86% of students attending public schools and a large income disparity between public and non-public school students. The average public school child has a household income of almost $80,000 while the average non-public student's household income is almost 60% higher at over $126,000.

These weaknesses in Illinois's public education funding laws are not new. To challenge those laws, plaintiffs filed Chicago Urban League (CUL) v. Illinois in 2009 and alleged that the state's school funding system violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act. Then in 2010, plaintiff taxpayers in Carr v. Koch filed their case, which claims the funding system violates the state constitution's equal protection clause because residents of low-property-wealth districts pay higher tax rates, yet see their children attending schools with less funding and fewer of the resources essential to learning. These cases are pending in state courts.

Related Stories:
Pennsylvania Retreats from Fair School Funding
New York School Funding among Nation's Most Unfair
The Garden State: A Beacon of Educational Equity in the Region
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19

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