- In an attempt to solve equity issues, Illinois recently revamped its state education funding process to provide extra support to economically challenged public school districts by allocating funds based on district need and by raising the performance expectations of at-risk students, District Administration reports.
- Currently, the system benefits districts in wealthier counties as nearly two-thirds of funding for each district comes from local property taxes; however, the new formula, which will take effect in 2018, will use factors such as district demographics and enrollment to determine a district tier and per-student “funding adequacy target.”
- A June 2017 study from the Urban Institute reveals that 35 other states also gear funding toward assisting low-income districts, though allocations and funding formulas vary greatly and the effectiveness of these issues has so far been difficult to track.
This effort by the state of Illinois to correct equity issues in education is laudable, though the impact of the approach remains to be seen. Illinois is an interesting test case because before this legislation, Illinois has had one of the highest district-funding levels in the nation, with nearly two-thirds of school district funding coming from local property taxes, a clear advantage for wealthier counties. Since state funding for education is generally intended to have an equalizing effect, such disparities are greater in states that are more dependent on district-level funding for education. If an analysis of the issue of equity by Education Week proves true, then “equity of funding across a state can improve academic performance without any additional spending overall.”
The Illinois plan seems to be still be in flux, especially as details involving accountability for the way funds are spent and measures of how to determine its impact have yet to be decided. What is clear is that school districts will now need to present their case for funding to state legislators. The presentation of a thoughtful, detailed spending plan including assessment of school programs and services, may well make a big difference in the amount of money a district receives. This plan seems to present an added burden on school districts to justify costs and programs and to carefully review demographic data, but that effort may pay off in the long run by increasing opporunities for students.
School districts, however, cannot expect more funding to solve all academic performance issues. No matter how much money a school district receives, student poverty at home will still have an impact on student performance, though that effect might be mitigated by schools providing additional support services. Lower-income parents often tend to be less involved with school efforts or may have a negative attitude toward school based on personal experience. Schools will still need to find ways to engage parents if they are to maintain success. Harvard Professor Robert Putnam once said that, given a choice between a 10% increase in school budgets or a 10% increase in parent involvement, he would invest in parent involvement.