Some education officials in the state say that the government is making progress with its new evidence-based funding formula to narrow wealth-based disparities among school districts. In 2017, state lawmakers adopted the evidence-based funding system. The idea was to determine each school district’s “adequacy target” — the amount of money it needs to provide the educational services required by the state. That target is based on factors unique to each district, such as the district’s size, and the number of low-income students, English language learners and students with special education needs. The stated goal is to bring all districts up to at least 90% of adequacy by 2027.
Jacksonville School District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek explained where the local district currently stands with its adequacy target and funding. “We are in one of the worst places you can be for EBF funding. Tier 1 last year, the cut off was at 67% adequacy and we were at 68%. If you were a Tier 1 school, the amount of money you received in EBF funding was substantially higher. We were 1% away from that. Last year, our Tier 2 funding was around $235,000. This year Tier 1 raised a percent to 68% and we are at 69% adequacy. We are right on the cusp of being a school of getting Tier 1 funding. This year we received about $273,000 in EBF funding as a Tier 2 school.”
Numbers released earlier this month show that adequacy targets in the state range from 47% to 288%. According to the data, 652 out of 850 districts in the state received less than 90% adequacy – including 144 that received less than 60%. According to ISBE data, property wealth in a district is the number one determining factor that determined funding adequacy for a school district. While the impact of the new funding formula is yet to be seen statewide, Ptacek said that the funding has helped Jacksonville School District keep quality teachers and attract new ones to the district. “That money has absolutely gone into teachers’ salaries. That money was one of the reasons we were able to sign the new contract with our teachers and give them a well-deserved and much-needed raise or starting pay. Our salaries were some of the lowest in Morgan County, and we are talking compared to much smaller school districts like Franklin and Waverly. Our EBF money has gone into attract new teachers to the district as well as maintaining the amount of high quality teachers we currently have in the district. We are glad, as a community, that we are not in a Tier 1 rank, but financially it would be a more beneficial to us to be 1% lower.”
Ptacek says the funding and facilities still exist in the state and he’s a bit skeptical that things are going to work out in the long run. “The inequities in this state when it comes to funding is tremendous. There are parts of what I know the governor is trying to do by converting things over into income tax instead of property taxes that I know in the long run, in theory, he wants to address the inequity. I hope it works. I don’t have full confidence in not just him but the legislature and everybody’s ability to make that happen. Remember, the lottery and everything else that has been promised to schools? EBF funding, which we are $350 million shy into this year’s ramp up was supposed to be happen. Despite that, we have to address the inequities across the state.”
The state is hoping that the EBF formula will bring adequacy rates for all districts up to 90% by 2027. Currently, that would mean a student in fifth grade will already have graduated high school by the time that goal is achieved and several billion dollars will have to be poured into the EBF formula from some funding source.