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Staying Engaged as Districts Navigate New School Funding Plans

In the midst of heated debates over federal education spending, it’s easy to overlook the reality that federal support constitutes only a small portion of total school funding.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, federal money accounts for 8 percent of total funding for elementary and secondary school budgets. The vast majority of funding is cobbled together by states and individual school districts.

This summer, several state legislatures are embroiled in heated discussions about how state-level funds are allocated to schools.

Just this week, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, called for a special session of the state legislature after the Democratically-controlled body missed Rauner’s deadline to submit a plan that would overhaul the state’s school funding process.

After two years without a new budget, the Illinois legislature recently approved a plan for the distribution of school funds. The new “evidenced-based model” would replace what lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have called an unfair system of funding.

But the state senate has refused to submit that plan to the governor after he signaled intentions to veto it and write his own plan.

As WGN-9 Chicago reports, at the heart of the political showdown is Rauner’s opposition to a proposed increase in funding for Chicago Public Schools.

The stalemate in Illinois is but one in a string of state-level controversies over education spending that have erupted in recent months.

Both Maine and New Jersey experienced days-long government shutdowns after governors and legislators could not agree on an education budget, as Daarel Burnette II reports in Education Week. In both cases, state funding for K-12 schools eventually increased. Georgia, Idaho, and Tennessee also increased their state education budgets this year.

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On the other hand, states such as Alaska, Oklahoma, and Connecticut have opted to cut school funding.

Illinois isn’t the only state rethinking its education funding formula. At least 10 other states are investigating new funding models. This week, the Texas senate passed a bill establishing a commission to examine the state’s school funding approach, the Texas Tribune reports. That bill, along with a new school choice plan, will next be considered by the state’s House of Representatives.

Other states, including Idaho, Delaware, and Maryland, have also established funding commissions, Burnette reports, to take a fresh look at how education budgets are developed and allocated.

As states consider new funding approaches, school districts need to keep a close eye on the ways that proposed funding plans either will, or will not, affect existing school funding plans.

Do new funding proposals stand to increase education spending for key programs in your state? Or, might your community be forced to consider an increase in property taxes, or other measures, to account for sudden shortfalls? These are all questions staff and community members will undoubtedly ask over the coming months. That’s why staying engaged in the state legislative process, and having an ongoing dialogue with your school community about what’s happening and how it stands to impact their lives, is vitally important moving forward.

Is your state government reconsidering how school budgets are funded this summer? If so, what steps are you taking to actively engage your community in the school budgeting process? Tell us in the comments.