Finally-Authentic Reform to School Funding
In a very interesting way, the LeRoy School District has played a role in this process and as such, it is important to know a little bit of the history and the future. The concept of the Evidence Based Model for School Funding (EBM) has been a topic of conversation at our Board level for nearly four years. They considered the model from the perspective of our school system and from the perspective of policy makers. Through their leadership, they allowed our Superintendent to be an active participant in the conversation and the educational process related to the model. As a community, we should be very proud of the leadership that our Board of Education has taken in this effort, both to advocate and to understand.
Dr. Brent Clark, Executive Director of the IASA with the support of his Board of Directors, proposed an initiative four-years ago, “Vision 2020.” The fundamental purpose of this initiative was to clearly identify purposeful solutions to the challenges that are faced in public education. It was for the first time an opportunity to advocate for solutions rather than simply to point out the problems. The focus of this initiative was divided into four pillars: 1) Highly Effective Educators; 2) 21st Century Learning; 3) Shared Accountability; and 4) Equitable and Adequate Funding.
Through the course of committee work related to Equitable and Adequate Funding, the committee landed on the concept of the EBM. The EBM was not necessarily new, it had been implemented in other states and had been the focus of several studies around the country. Dr. Allan Odden and Dr. Lawrence Picus had completed much of the research and advocacy around the country, but it was the research study done by Dr. Michelle Mangan while she was at National-Louis University that became the specific focus of the EBM committee work. Her study was specific to Illinois and created the foundation for the work going forward.
The first order of business was to determine if there could be legislative support for such a model, and this first step is of significance in McLean County and should not be lost in the process. Senator Jason Barickman of Bloomington-Normal was the first legislator to show a willingness to get behind the model. At a time when another funding solution had been proposed, he continued to advocate that the EBM was a better and more defensible solution to the inequities in our current school funding model. Thankfully, he did not waver in his support for the principles of the EBM.
Now that there was an avenue for legislative support, the need to take the EBM to a level not developed in any other state was the next critical step. The key question, how do you develop a model for distribution that will work to solve the inequity throughout the state without harming any district? There are three people and their organizations that deserve specific credit for this best in the country model: Michael Jacoby of IASBO, Ben Boer of Advance Illinois, and Ralph Martire of CTBA. The combined effort of these three and their organizations are responsible for the comprehensive model that exists today. Technically and philosophically, they were able to build the mathematical underpinnings of the model, while at the same time articulate the impact of each manipulation to varying types of districts throughout the State. It is unlikely that anyone will ever fully understand the magnitude of how complicated this work was or how many hours it took to get it right.
The model was complete and a basis for legislative language existed for the first time; so began the legislative process. There were manipulations and changes made over the course of the legislative process as well as various bills being proposed. After two years of significant effort, advocacy, and frustration for all involved, we have now passed a bill that will allow for a best in the country solution. What should be recognized and appreciated about this process, as messy as it may have been:
- Senator Barickman never wavered on his belief that the EBM was the best foundation for a solution.
- Senator Manar showed a willingness to listen to those who advocated for the EBM and put some of his technical people in the room to engage in the discussion, ultimately becoming another voice in support for the EBM as a foundation for a solution.
- Governor Rauner established a commission for the purposeful study of a funding solution.
- Senator Lightford both introduced a bill and commissioned a continued study of the EBM.
- Representatives Davis and Pritchard introduced a bipartisan bill in the house with the foundation being the EBM.
While these were the key players in the process, there were many others in the General Assembly who played a role in the development and advocacy for the final solution. We should all applaud the willingness to continue to work toward a solution and be hopeful that the same effort and resilience can exist to solve the many other challenges faced by our State.
For our school system, we would like to thank everyone who played a role, but specifically would like to thank Brent Clark for his vision; Michael Jacoby, Ben Boer, and Ralph Martire for their technical knowledge; Jason Barickman for not giving in; Andy Manar for making it a critical issue; and the Leaders in the General Assembly for seeing it through.
We are committed to continuing the open dialogue with our community about how we choose to invest in the education of our students in the LeRoy School system. We believe that this model will allow for exactly that type of purposeful conversation. We are grateful to the leadership of so many that we will now be able to move forward in a purposeful direction to plan for the educational opportunities worthy and appropriate for the children we serve.