What School Funding Reform Means for Christian County

There’s been a lot of talk about my education funding reform bill lately — here’s what it actually does for you.

Quick Facts:

  • Before the Student Success Act, a child attending Christian County schools in my district was only getting 66 cents for every dollar they needed to receive a quality education.
  • Each Christian County school district was classified either as a Tier 1 or Tier 2 school district— the two lowest of four categories in Illinois for rating how much was being spent on each student compared to what they needed to receive a quality education.
  • While Christian County schools struggled, 139 school districts across Illinois were receiving taxpayer funding above what they needed to provide their students with a quality education.
  • The Student Success Act provided Christian County schools with $858,000 in relief funding so children here get the same educational opportunities as others across the state.

When I was first elected back in 2012, Springfield’s system for educating our kids wasn’t just unfair, it actually weighed down the children that needed help the most. Illinois had the worst system in the nation for ensuring students from different economic backgrounds received equal educational opportunities — for every dollar Illinois spent educating a child from a non-low-income household, it only spent 81 cents educating a child from a low-income household.

Source: Funding IL’s Future

A lot of that had to do with property taxes. Since property taxes had an outsized impact on how schools were funded, schools in Chicago suburbs and other wealthier parts of the state received way more money than they needed to educate their kids. On the other hand, children in low-income areas and the districts hit hardest by the recession barely had half the resources they needed in order to receive a quality education. The map below illustrates it pretty well — just look at all the red downstate.

Downstate kids needed a voice in Springfield, so I made it my mission to find a way to give them the same opportunities as everyone else. One of the first things I did when I got to Springfield in 2013 was create the Education Funding Advisory Committee, and, with the recommendations of that committee, I proposed my first school funding bill back in May 2014. That bill was never even heard in the House, and a lot of other members told me, politely, that I might want to spend my time working on more achievable projects. And that wasn’t the only setback — here are a few quotes to give you an idea:

October, 2014 — “It should surprise no one that education funding reform is turning into a political football this fall after passing 32–19 in the Senate during the spring. Last week Republicans in the House heightened their saber-rattling over the bill, concerned that it will whisk money from the suburban Chicago schools they represent.” — Editorial Board, State Journal-Register.
January, 2015 — “Last spring a bill that would divert some state money from dozens of suburban school districts to needier ones squeaked out of the Senate but died in the House. We compliment the effort of its champion, Sen. Andy Manar.” — Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune.
February, 2016 — “Madigan couldn’t be bothered to appoint House members to a school funding task force that, under Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, did yeoman’s work trying to recalibrate the $30 billion spent on public schools annually.” — Kristen McQueary, Chicago Tribune.
July, 2016 — “Manar, who spent two years working on an overhaul of the funding formula with a bipartisan working group, got his bill through the Senate this spring. It promptly died in the House under the thumb of Speaker Michael Madigan.” — Kristen McQueary, Chicago Tribune.
August, 2017 — “Since Rauner’s veto, a handful of lawmakers have been negotiating to find middle ground between the bill the General Assembly passed and the changes Rauner demands. Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, has been on the phone with Democrats and Republicans, trying to wade toward a new version that both parties would accept. But time is running out.” — Editorial Board, Chicago Tribune.
September, 2017 — “He basically picked a fight that no one else wanted to touch. The fact that he got it done in this political environment is nothing short of a miracle.” — Amy Ballinger-Cole, Advance Illinois.

It took five years. It took eight bills. It took about 1,500 meetings in every corner of Illinois, and 41,000 miles on my car in 2017 alone. But it was worth every minute of the fight. We had to take on the status quo and entrenched interests in Springfield to get it done, and we had to work in a bi-partisan way.

Today, money from SB 1947 is finally being distributed to our schools, and for the first time in two decades, the neediest schools are at the front of the line, not the back. That’s a game-changer for Downstate kids. This bill will open up once-unthinkable opportunities for kids all over the state and reduce the need to raise property taxes. Bottom line: school funding is now fair in Illinois.

Everyday, I go to work on behalf of Downstate families. CLICK HERE to read about more of my work.