O'Fallon Progress

Accountability for Illinois schools has changed, hopefully adequate funding will follow

Carrie Hruby
Carrie Hruby

The fall of 2017 marked several significant changes for Illinois school districts. 

First, our state funding formula was completely overhauled to provide a more equitable distribution based on an evidence formula. Also this fall, the Illinois State Board of Education shared its final response to the U.S. Department of Education regarding its plan for implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act. ESSA is the law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, and each state was required to define its plan for implementation within the federal guidelines.

Superintendents and school leaders across the state are now unpacking both pieces of legislation and analyzing the way they impact our districts. 

The Evidence-Based Funding Model, Public Act 100-0465, defines a formula by which each district is has an individual adequacy target. Twenty-six key elements (that research shows have a strong impact on student achievement) make up the pillars upon which the formula is built. School districts can now plug their specific demographics and costs into the model to find exact figures on their areas of gaps. 

For example, the model shows that District 90 should spend $671,270 annually on instructional materials, $441,625 on professional development for staff and just over $1 million on computer technology. We do not. 

The research says that’s how much we should be able to afford, and while it would be a dream come true to be able to offer students that level of resources, it’s not yet our reality. This is an example of the fact that the adequacy targets are goals, and the state will hopefully scale to adequacy over time as it send dollars to districts based on each district’s gap to adequacy.

While the Evidence-Based Funding Model does not fill the financial gaps immediately, what it does offer immediately is a common standard by which community members can review the needs in each district. Being able to articulate what the research suggests we have, and what we are currently able to offer, provides us a powerful tool when speaking with legislators about our needs. We hope the visual of our individual needs will better illustrate the impact of previous state funding prorations and the need to support schools. 

The Evidence-Based Funding Model provides the picture of our gaps, just as the Every Student Succeeds Act will provide an analysis of gaps in student achievement. NCLB primarily relied on proficiency targets, by which all students were expected to meet a specific achievement level on a state test in the areas of reading and math. ESSA provides a more well-rounded view of achievement, adding additional data points such as fine arts, science and social studies instruction, attendance, climate surveys, drop-out rates. Schools will be expected to outline goals based on the gaps presented in these multiple points of data and support will be provided to those below target.

The two pieces of legislation, EBF and ESSA, are sure to define our future goals. The two fit nicely into one another as we will review the way we allocate resources to best help our students achieve as well-rounded learners. Each district will find gaps, but the analysis and goal-setting will be key to making improvements in education across Illinois.