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Simon: Big ideas, big reforms needed for Illinois education funding 

WATERLOO – Jan. 13, 2014. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon will urge state leaders to overhaul the way schools are funded in Illinois during the final hearing of the Education Funding Advisory Committee (EFAC) this afternoon in Waterloo. Simon said the current formula hurts rural and high-poverty districts and should be changed before the 2014-15 school year.

“In our current system, the perennial losers are low-income and rural communities: those with the least local resources and the least political clout,” Simon said. “Yet our state needs all students to succeed if we are to grow our economy and improve our quality of life. It will take guts to fund these schools equitably, but it is a moral and economic imperative.”

Simon recommended several changes, including a cap on the state payments made to offset property taxes and the merging of transportation funds into the primary funding formula. She also asked the committee to tackle “proration,” or the way the state handles payments when funding falls short. Districts that rely most heavily on state dollars should be cut at a lower rate than those who rely least on state funds, she said.

“The proration inequity has contributed to financial instability in districts across the state, and is most visible in North Chicago and East St. Louis. We will see more districts in jeopardy if we continue on our current path,” she said.

Started by State Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), the purpose of the Advisory Committee is to examine the state’s current education funding system and propose a system that provides adequate, equitable, transparent, and accountable distribution of funds to school districts that will prepare students for achievement and success after high school. The Advisory Committee is comprised of eight members appointed by the Senate president and the Senate minority leader.

The Illinois State Board of Education notes that the Advisory Committee is required to consider the following when making its recommendations: the number of students in a school and school district and the level of need of those students; a school district’s ability to provide local resources; transparency and accountability; revenue predictability; and the long-term implications and outcomes of the funding system. The Advisory Committee must seek input from stakeholders and members of the public on issues and possible improvements to the existing funding system.

Simon serves as the state's point person on education reform. In this capacity, Simon is working to increase the proportion of working-age adults with college degrees or certificates to 60 percent by 2025. As chair of the 25-member Governor's Rural Affairs Council, Simon is also working to improve the delivery of state services and education opportunities to rural Illinois.