Senate Week in Review: April 10-14, 2017
Springfield, Ill. – Fixing the state’s broken school funding formula is the goal of two legislative proposals introduced this week, while another recently filed measure seeks to address the teacher shortage in Illinois’ rural school districts.
In other news, the Illinois State Police is taking a proactive step to combat hate crimes in Illinois communities, and the Department of Revenue is reminding residents that the tax-filing deadline is quickly approaching.
New education funding legislation would advance true parity for schools
After years of bipartisan negotiations, two legislative proposals have been advanced to reduce the inequity and inadequacy that has plagued the state’s more than 800 school districts, and truly address questions of school funding parity.
The legislation is based on the framework advanced by the Governor’s bipartisan Education Funding Reform Commission, and establishes an evidence-based school funding formula.
The evidence-based system establishes a formula that would take into account the vast and unique differences that exist between the state’s many districts—ranging from urban Chicago schools to rural downstate and suburban districts. Notably, the evidence-based system drives dollars to where they are most needed and where the additional resources can do the most good.
The evidence-based funding model takes into account 27 different variables in order to set individual adequacy targets for each school district that are based on the districts’ real costs, accepted best practices, and student demographics.
That data will be used to establish four funding “tiers,” which would ensure that additional funding goes to the state’s neediest districts. Tier 4 would encompass the districts that are financially the strongest, with spending already exceeding their adequacy target. Tier 1 would include struggling school districts that are spending far below their adequacy target.
The four-tiered system would also be used to protect the most vulnerable schools, ending the regressive nature of “proration.” Proration is the result of the state’s past practice of cutting school funding. Under proration, the districts with the most need often saw the most significant budget cuts.
Additionally, all school districts would be protected through a “hold-harmless” provision, which during the first year would be based on the amount the district received during the 2016-2017 school year. In the second year and each year thereafter, the hold-harmless would be tied to the school’s actual student population to better reflect need, and funding would be based on the amount a district received per student in FY2017.
The legislation also repeals the controversial Chicago block grant and ensures equitable funding for charter schools.
In order to ensure consistent review of the state’s school funding, the legislation establishes a panel to review the new formula every three years. This would allow lawmakers to not only see how funding is being allocated, but better understand the outcomes that can be achieved for each school district. There will be clear data on the results of decisions to spend more or less money in Illinois schools, and information on how those budgetary decisions will impact in-class learning. Additionally, taxpayers will have a better idea of how much funding their schools need, in terms of both state and local revenues.
An accompanying legislative measure would provide substantial mandate relief to all school districts, establishing statewide various management tools that are currently granted only to Chicago Public Schools. These tools include cutting cost-prohibitive bureaucratic red tape involved in third-party contracting; flexibility on scheduling of physical education, and allowing student-athletes to replace P.E. hours with additional classes or study halls; and permitting citizens to discharge certain unfunded mandates from their districts via referendum.
As a package, the bills eliminate the controversial Chicago Block Grant while offering pension parity to Chicago Public Schools, creating a single, uniform funding system for every school district in Illinois. Both education reform measures would be tied to pension reform legislation (SB 2172/SB 2173) that has been filed in the Senate.
Legislation pending in the Senate to ease rural teacher shortage
In response to a teacher shortage impacting school districts in many of Illinois’ rural communities, legislation pending in the Senate would help these rural school districts struggling to attract good teachers choose from a much larger pool of applicants.
Acknowledging that a mastery of standardized testing doesn’t necessarily translate into good teachers in Illinois classrooms, Senate Bill 1123 would add an additional avenue for students to receive their teaching license—by achieving a minimum grade point average of 3.0 out of a 4.0 scale in the core education curriculum classes at the universities they attend.
Currently, students seeking a career in teaching must score at least 22 on their ACT test or 1110 on their SAT test, or pass the Academic Proficiency (TAP)/Basic Skills test in order to receive their teaching licenses.
A 2016 report from Teachers of Tomorrow found Illinois’ schools have some of the highest levels of unfilled teaching positions in the nation, to the tune of 6,381.
State police step up efforts to fight hate crimes
Illinois is seeking to more aggressively combat hate crimes by prioritizing training of law enforcement on how to better identify, investigate and prosecute these types of crimes.
Though the General Assembly has been proactive about passing laws targeting hate crimes, law enforcement officials must have an awareness and understanding of these laws in order to identify and pursue perpetrators of hate crimes.
The Illinois State Police (ISP) will be working with the Anti-Defamation League to create a new curriculum for ISP cadets, which will enable the state’s law enforcement to better recognize and investigate hate crimes so they can bring criminals to justice.
The focus and purpose of this training will strengthen the knowledge and skills of officers by providing up-to-date information and strategies for identifying, investigating, and prosecuting hate crimes. It will also provide officers with ideas on how to work more effectively to change community norms that foster tolerance of and indifference toward hate crimes.
State offers help as April 18 deadline to file tax returns looms
With less than a week left to file federal and state income tax returns, the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) is reminding taxpayers to file as soon as they can.
For individuals who have yet to file their 2016 tax returns, MyTax Illinois, IDOR’s free online account management program, is now accepting Individual Income Tax returns. Taxpayers can file their Form IL-1040 using MyTax Illinois. Individuals may also utilize MyTax Illinois to make payments; check the status of their Illinois Individual Income Tax refund using Where’s My Refund?; and look up their IL-PIN, estimated tax payments, and 1099-G amounts. Filing Illinois income taxes electronically and electing direct deposit is still the fastest way to receive a refund.
For the most up-to-date information, forms, schedules, and instructions for the 2017 Illinois Income Tax season, please visit IDOR’s website at: tax.illinois.gov. Individuals needing assistance by phone may call IDOR’s telephone assistance hotline at 1-800-732-8866 (Mon – Fri, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.). Extended hotline hours for the 2016 tax filing season are as follows: April 15 (Saturday) 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., April 17 (Monday) 7:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., and April 18 (Tuesday) 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.