By RALPH MARTIRE
According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word “provocative” means: “serving to arouse a needed stimulus for action.” It’s no secret the media is constantly on the hunt for provocative material. What’s also no secret is the media tends to focus on items that are provocative because they’re divisive, racist or otherwise polarizing. Which explains why they whiffed on covering the Illinois State Board of Education’s K-12 funding request for next year — which calls for the state to invest $13.9 billion in educating Illinois’ school children — or more than double what was passed into law for this year, FY2018.
Now that’s provocative. The media missed it, however, because it isn’t provocative due to its negativity or its capacity to polarize. Rather, ISBE’s funding request is provocative because of its inherent rationality and capacity “to stimulate action” for the common good.
Understanding why that’s the case requires a brief overview of the historic change to Illinois’ school funding formula that became law last August.
Known as the “Evidence Based Model” or “EBM,” Illinois’ new formula represents the best practice in school funding for one simple reason: It ties the amount taxpayers invest in schools to those educational practices that the research shows actually enhance student academic achievement.
As ISBE notes, the EBM creates an “Adequacy Target” of resources based on 34 cost factors, adjusted by formula to account for the individualized needs of school districts statewide — which is crucial, given the incredibly diverse student population they serve.
This represents a marked improvement over Illinois’ prior “foundation formula,” which wasn’t based on any evidence or any actual costs of educating students.
Instead, decision makers set an arbitrary, statewide dollar amount of per-student school funding, predicated not on what it takes to educate kids, but rather on what state government could afford. Given Illinois’ enormous fiscal problems, it’s no wonder the old system was woefully inadequate. Worse, consistently inadequate state funding over time pushed the primary obligation to fund schools down to local property taxes, creating one of the most inequitable systems in America.
Charged with making a funding recommendation under the new EBM for next year, ISBE engaged in an entirely rational, data-based analysis.
First, it calibrated how far from satisfying the evidenced-based Adequacy Target of each school district current K-12 funding levels are. Next, ISBE noted that the Evidence Based Model includes only state and local resources invested in K-12, not federal funding.
Since the feds cover around 10 percent of K-12 education costs, ISBE reduced what had to be funded under the EBM accordingly, to cover just 90 percent of the shortfall between what the evidence shows is needed and current funding levels.
Finally, ISBE cited Illinois’ consistent failure to fulfill the constitutional imperative that the state assume the “primary responsibility for financing the system of public education” as the core reason for the significant over-reliance on local property taxes that has created the highly inequitable system Illinois has today. How inequitable? Well, ISBE’s preliminary calculations show Illinois school districts range from having only 46 percent of the resources the evidence indicate are needed to educate the students they serve to having 284 percent.
That’s quite the gap, which ISBE correctly concludes can’t be filled equitably unless the state covers the difference.
And while the price tag is significant, the evidence also shows it’s worth it from an economic standpoint.
For instance, research shows that every dollar spent on education returns $5.37 to a state’s economy. Moreover, the Federal Reserve found states with the best high school graduation rates had the highest per capita incomes. Research further indicates gaining a 90 percent graduation rate for students of color could grow Illinois’ economy by $264 million more annually. Yep, ISBE’s recommendation is provocative alright — but hopefully it provides the impetus for lawmakers to fund the EBM fully — given it’s rational, based on the evidence of what works, and promotes the public good.
Ralph Martire is executive director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, a bipartisan fiscal policy think tank. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.