The following column appeared in The (Springfield) State Journal-Register on June 16, 2017.


ManarShaelynSteele 350When I was 15, Sen. Vince Demuzio invited me to spend the day with him at the Illinois Capitol, stirring my love for public service and stoking my desire to be a catalyst for change.

This spring, several area students joined me for a day at the Capitol, coming from mostly public schools across the 48th Senate District.

These schools, in communities like Taylorville, Nokomis and Springfield, represent various populations, student needs and local property wealth.

But Illinois’ terrible school funding formula fails to acknowledge these inherent differences or the idea that offering the same high-quality education to every student requires different resources — and therefore different levels of funding — in each school district. Our rotten, outdated formula identifies winning and losing students based on little more than ZIP codes.

Students born in the Illinois rust or coal belts, shrinking rural villages or decaying urban centers are out of luck because the formula relies too heavily on property taxes to fund schools, and these communities can’t keep up. The formula annually siphons state dollars away and funnels them to wealthier districts. And if you happen to be a low-income student, Illinois will only spend 81 cents on the dollar to educate you.

It’s insane, and if we don’t change the formula now, it will continue to erode and punish downstate and low-income school districts.

That’s where Senate Bill 1 comes in. This plan, approved by the General Assembly in May, would move Illinois to an evidence-based formula, which has widespread support from school superintendents, educators, parents and community groups.

No school districts lose funding under this plan — no exceptions — and it builds in property tax relief for high-tax school districts. Unfortunately, not a single Springfield-area Republican voted for it. As soon as it passed, an orchestrated campaign attempted to conceal their bad vote from constituents.

I’m urging parents and taxpayers to do their homework. Consider these estimated overall gains for Springfield-area districts, which are based on the Illinois State Board of Education’s own analysis of SB 1:

  • Auburn District 10 – $475,000
  • Ball Chatham District 5 – $161,000
  • Carlinville District 1 – $259,000
  • Gillespie District 7 – $624,000
  • Hillsboro District 3 – $194,000
  • Jacksonville District 117 – $323,000
  • Lincoln District 404 – $296,000
  • Litchfield District 12 – $293,000
  • North Greene District 3 – $247,000
  • North Mac District 34 – $411,000
  • Pana District 8 – $469,000
  • Riverton District – $568,000
  • Rochester District 3A – $159,000
  • Springfield District 186 – $1.1 million
  • Taylorville District 3 – $314,000
  • Williamsville District 15 – $94,000

Does this look like a “Chicago bailout” to you?

This is the closest the legislature has come in decades to getting a school funding overhaul to the governor’s desk. It’s a good bill that corrects a long-standing wrong and puts all Illinois students on the path to a brighter future.

Let’s talk about some of those students who visited me at the Capitol this year.

Shaelyn Steele of Illiopolis was a senior at Sangamon Valley High School. She already had been taking nursing courses through community college two nights a week so she could work as a nursing assistant this summer and get an impressive head start on her college education.

Cole Davlin is now a senior at Springfield High School. His favorite subject is history, and he enjoys taking foreign language courses because he hopes to study political science and do ambassador work overseas after college.

Jack Curtin, who lives on his family’s farm in Stonington, recently graduated from Taylorville High School. He told me how he had helped generate support for a property tax increase after the school district was forced to make cuts to balance the budget. He’ll study crop science in college and wants to make sure Taylorville schools are in good shape when he returns home to Christian County someday to work on the family farm and put down roots of his own.

We need to do everything we can to nurture bright, driven, successful students like these — and every Illinois student. It begins by fixing the formula and making Illinois a national leader on fair school funding.

State Sen. Andy Manar is a Democrat from Bunker Hill and the sponsor of Senate Bill 1.

Pictured above: Sangamon Valley High School senior Shaelyn Steele of Illiopolis visits Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) at the Illinois Capitol in Springfield on April 5, 2017.

Category: School Funding Reform

This column originally was published in Crain's Chicago Business on June 7, 2017.


ManarCurtin04262017 350

This spring, I hosted students from my district at the state capitol. Among them was a Taylorville High School senior named Jack Curtin.

Taylorville is a town of 11,000 about 30 miles southeast of Springfield. Curtin lives on his family's farm in the nearby village of Stonington. A student athlete with excellent grades, he plans to study crop science in college.

Curtin told me he volunteered this spring with an organization that had generated support for a property tax increase after his school district was forced to cut teaching positions, athletics and extracurricular programs to balance the ledger. A previous referendum didn't pass, but in April, by a margin of more than 2 to 1, voters chose a tax increase over the possibility of further damaging cuts caused by the inaction of state government.

For Curtin, it was personal.

"Taylorville is home to me. I know I'm going to be coming back to the farm, and I want to send my kids to school here," he said. "The opportunities I've been offered have been phenomenal. I just don't think it's fair that one group gets to prepare for their future while another group doesn't. We have to put kids on a path for success."

He's correct: All students deserve a chance to be successful. Yet Illinois deprives students of this opportunity every day—and has for decades—by failing to fairly and adequately fund public schools.

Illinois has the most regressive education funding system in the nation because of its reliance on property taxes and the state's inability to meet its annual funding commitment. The result: Wealthy districts invest upward of $30,000 per student; poor districts as little as $6,000 per student.

Taylorville spends on the lower end—about $7,400 per student.

On May 31, the Illinois legislature approved a landmark overhaul of the school funding formula. Under Senate Bill 1, which I sponsored, no schools would lose any funding—important because it alleviates concerns about "winners" and "losers" that arose under past school funding reform models.

Senate Bill 1 was crafted with input from school administrators and educators. It reflects recommendations that came from Gov. Rauner's bipartisan commission on school funding reform—a panel led by his education secretary, Beth Purvis, that failed to produce its own legislation.

Based on the "evidence-based model," Senate Bill 1 accounts for the needs of students with disabilities, English learners and low-income students, while ensuring that a district's taxing effort matches its local wealth. It offers property tax relief to high-tax school districts and is a stable, long-term solution.

But Rauner and Purvis, along with most Republican lawmakers, decry it as a "bailout" because of a political agenda and their bias against one school district: Chicago. Rauner has vowed to veto the plan, and Republicans are serving up excuses to mislead constituents.

What Republicans call a "bailout" is simply the rest of us demanding that Chicago be treated like the rest of Illinois school districts with regard to teacher pensions. The state picks up teacher pension costs for every district except Chicago. Senate Bill 1 adds Chicago into the equation for the first time ever in the interest of fairness under the evidence-based model. But it also eliminates the Chicago block grant, which gives CPS a prioritized, guaranteed level of funding from certain grant programs regardless of need. No more special deals.

Senate Bill 1 is good for every school district in Illinois. In fact, 268 school districts would gain more per-pupil funding than Chicago schools. But Rauner doesn't call it the "Kewanee kickback" or the "Waukegan windfall"—both of which, deservedly so, receive a greater proportional share of dollars than Chicago under the plan.

By promising a veto and leading a statewide misinformation campaign, Rauner is greenlighting a broken system that even students know is wrong because it sorts them into winners and losers from Day 1 based on ZIP codes.

Jack Curtin and students in communities throughout Illinois deserve a better system than the one we have forced upon them for decades. Our future depends on it.

— State Senator Andy Manar is a Democrat from Bunker Hill and the sponsor of Senate Bill 1.

Category: School Funding Reform

Below is a simple fact sheet about Senate Bill 1, a school funding reform model that passed in both houses of the Legislature but has been threatened with a veto by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Feel free to download it and share it on social media to help combat the deliberate misinformation campaign being waged by the governor and many Republican legislators. Then call Gov. Rauner's office at 217-782-0244 and tell him to sign Senate Bill 1. If you already called once, call again.

Downstate school districts stand to lose millions of dollars if Illinois' current school funding formula is allowed to continue. That means more cuts to important instructional programs, more staff layoffs and more bad news for our students. Let's put an end to inequity and by enacting Senate Bill 1.


Manar factsheet SB1 060817 600

Category: School Funding Reform

ManarPanaStudents350Illinois is poised to replace its rotten school funding formula with a new formula that ensures schools throughout the state are fairly and adequately funded for the first time in decades.

On May 31, the Legislature approved a landmark overhaul approved a landmark overhaul of the school funding formula. Under Senate Bill 1, no schools would lose any funding – an important point because it alleviates concerns about “winners” and “losers” that arose under past school funding reform models.

Schools in the central Illinois district I represent have scraped by for years with old textbooks and art classes in cramped janitors’ closets, while students in wealthier areas of the state flourished in schools with the latest classroom technology, STEM resources, orchestras and swimming pools.

Senate Bill 1 aims to level the playing field by funneling new money to school districts that are the least able to offer a high-quality education based on student needs, local property wealth and a district’s taxing effort.

I've provided a list of my area school districts below and estimates of how they would fare under the Illinois State Board of Education’s modeling of Senate Bill 1.

Even though every Illinois school would benefit under this plan – which is widely supported by school administrators, educators and funding reform advocates – few Republican lawmakers voted to support it, and Gov. Rauner has pledged to veto it (though he flip-flopped on two Chicago radio interviews, calling it a good bill).

Republicans have staged a misinformation campaign since last week, resorting to publishing fake numbers that intentionally mislead constituents and hide the truth about why they voted against a plan that benefits schools in their districts.

School funding reform is an initiative that I’ve championed for years. I’ve traveled to far-flung Illinois towns to explain how the formula works. My commitment to reforming this broken system of ours has meant long drives, late nights and time away from my family.

The years of discussion, research and bipartisan negotiation gave way finally to full legislative approval of Senate Bill 1. It’s a good bill that corrects a long-standing wrong and puts all of our children on the path to a brighter future.
To watch colleagues in the Legislature now manipulate the facts in an attempt to kill this measure because of politics makes my stomach turn.

That’s why I’m calling on each of you to make an investment of your own time in this cause – whether you’re a parent, a taxpayer or both. Read the legislation or an analysis and seek out credible news sources to develop an understanding of what school districts throughout Illinois are up against. Send me your questions; as the sponsor of three school funding reform bills, I’ve learned a lot about the issue, and I am happy to share that knowledge with you.

And when you, too, are satisfied that Senate Bill 1 is the fairest approach to funding all Illinois schools, I hope you will join me in urging Gov. Rauner to sign it into law.

Because, regardless of what you’ve been told, nobody is trying to “bail out” one particular school district. We’re trying to rescue hundreds of them.

Continue reading to find the following information:

  • accurate estimates of how local school districts would fare under Senate Bill 1
  • links to find out how your elected officials voted on Senate Bill 1
  • contact information for Gov. Rauner so you can urge him to sign Senate Bill 1
  • links to recent news about Senate Bill 1 and the school funding crisis in Illinois

Read more: The truth about school funding reform

Category: School Funding Reform

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