State Rep. Tim Butler discusses struggle over school funding plan

By Gary Scott on August 7, 2017 at 12:21pm

Frustration from school leaders across Illinois is growing as the new school year approaches without a plan for education funding from the state.

Lawmakers met for a special session in Springfield last week to try and negotiate over Senate Bill 1, which proposes an evidence-based funding formula. Little progress was made however, as Governor Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto, rewriting parts of the bill that would send hundreds of millions of dollars to Chicago Public Schools.

State Representative Tim Butler, a Republican from Springfield, says he wants a funding formula that’s fair for schools outside of Chicago.

“I think it’s not right to send (pension costs for Chicago Public Schools) through the formula. If you send the money for the pensions through the formula as opposed to putting them in pension code as is the case with other pensions, it means more money goes to Chicago on top of their historical money that they’ll be receiving in a huge block grant that they receive annually, which is something that none of the schools outside of Chicago get. It’s added money to Chicago at the expense of downstate and suburban schools. That’s really I think the big issue here is that we want parity and fairness when it comes to figuring out the dollars that go to the students around our state,” says Butler.

Butler says state lawmakers’ hands are tied because of a conflict in the law.

“The Democrats, when they passed the budget, attached what’s called an evidence-based funding model to enactment of the budget. So now the government’s hands are tied basically by saying that to put out funding for schools, it has to be under an evidence-based model. Well in current law, we do not have a definition of an evidence-based model. And until a law is totally enacted that would define an evidence-based model, we have a big conflict here that we don’t know how to put out the money if we don’t have an evidence-based model,” says Butler.

Butler explains what he’s proposing in regards to alleviating the problems caused by this conflict.

“What I’ve told folks is, what we ought to do, since there is this conflict in the law, is have the State Board of Education send the vouchers under the current general state aid formula to the Comptroller and let her make the decision if she wants to send them out while we try to hammer out the details on a new funding formula moving forward. And then if we need to come back later on and address some of the maybe underpayments that might take place under the current formula, we can address those, but I think it’s vitally important that we do whatever we can to get these payments out to schools,” Butler says.

Time is dwindling however, as school districts throughout Illinois are owed their first payment for the 2018 fiscal year by Thursday, and their second payment by August 20th.