Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood) is one of 25 appointees serving on a bipartisan commission tasked to present the Illinois Legislature with a new education funding formula.
Davis told the Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle that doesn’t necessarily mean moving from the current system that uses property taxes to primarily fund schools. Rather, the commission will look at new ways of measuring critical needs and how best to fund them.
Davis, chair of the Illinois House Education Appropriations Committee, said the commission has until Feb. 1 to come up with its proposals.
“I’m always optimistic,” said Davis, a member of the Illinois House the past 14 years.
“Seems like one of the hurdles we always have to get over is the impact on districts. If a district perceives that whatever is being discussed negatively impacts them, then they tell their reps they’re losers” and attempts to pass legislation fails, Davis explained.
“Why not take a step back, see what we’re trying to do and embrace those changes. That’s why it’s important that a lot of what we’re doing now is being embraced and led by the education community.
“It’s better when everybody wins,” Davis added.
Not all schools in his 30th Legislative District are being responsible with their money, he noted. Some school boards take little responsibility for school operations and award high salaried contracts. Davis said those actions don’t instill confidence in schools.
He used the example of Homewood District 153 passing a referendum to support schools. Homewood residents gave 80 percent approval in April for an additional $9 million bond issue to help maintain the curriculum at Willow, Churchill and Hart Schools.
“The residents of Homewood recognize the importance of education and I think the comment is that most residents have confidence in what their school district is doing. If I give a little bit more money I know the product I’m getting out of that district. That allows Homewood to, on occasion, ask residents for more resources,” he said.
Much of the discussion within the commission is likely to be around three bills: Senate Bill 231, Senate Bill 828 and House Bill 3191.
Within these bills are considerations for teacher pension reform and what schools need to serve students using evidence-based models.
Davis gave an example of students for whom “walking to school is like a gauntlet.” When they get to school, those students may need social workers to help them prepare for the day, he said. That’s an additional cost – a special need – for a district. Another school community may need more technology.
“We want to see more invested in education. We don’t know if the governor’s willingness (to add school funding) is predicated on other items,” he said.
Gov. Bruce Rauner’s long-standing argument for passage of his Turnaround Agenda items led to an impasse with legislators. Illinois went without a state budget for a year. After Rauner agreed to drop his agenda items from consideration, the legislature negotiated a temporary budget that passed with overwhelming support on June 30.
Davis said the temporary budget gave schools an additional $280 million, but without a revenue source. He admitted that Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger was allowed to raid certain state funds, and likely will push back payments to vendors in order to fulfill the mandate for greater school funding.
Davis acknowledged that the legislature hasn’t met all its obligations for school funding, but he said some school boards and administrators aren’t correctly explaining the relationship between state school funding and property taxes.
“When I listen to what the districts say, I’m kind of concerned they’re misleading people a little bit,” because the property tax levy to fund schools is set by the school boards not Springfield, he said.
“Residents need to be concerned about (the levy) regardless of what we do in Springfield. What is the district going to do to lessen and lower the tax burden?” he wondered.
“They’re trying to say to you that it’s my fault they’re raising taxes, when again they don’t have to raise those taxes. (School boards) can figure out how to keep doing what they’re doing based on the resources they receive, if that’s their desire,” Davis stressed.