Statement at ISBE Budget Hearing on EBF and vouchers

The IL State Board of Ed held a series of budget hearings this month to get feedback from the public on requests for the state's FY2024 budget for public education. IL Families for Public Schools' Samay Gheewala spoke at the Oct 4th hearing, along with representatives of several other members of the PEER (Partnership for Equity and Education Rights) Illinois funding coalition. Read his remarks after the jump.

My name is Samay Gheewala, and I am Assistant Director for Organizing and Policy at Illinois Families for Public Schools, a statewide parent advocacy group and part of the PEER Illinois coalition. 

ILFPS has fought for fair and equitable funding of all Illinois schools, including the passage of the Evidence-Based Funding formula, which is supposed to make sure every Illinois school receives an adequate amount of funding to support the students most in need. We were successful, and the EBF is an excellent framework for promoting equity in schools. 

Unfortunately, the EBF has not lived up to its promise. This is not because of the formula itself. The distribution of new dollars of state funding has indeed been allocated equitably unlike previous funding systems.  But because the state has refused to provide enough funding to make the formula work, Illinois remains far from equity and adequacy. Currently 83% of Illinois schools, attended by 1.7 million students, are still underfunded. The state provides 7 billion dollars less than it should to schools every year. With the bare minimum increase of 300 million dollars a year, these schools will not be properly funded for another 32 years, in 2054, instead of the promised date of 2027. 

Along with the rest of the PEER Illinois coalition we call on ISBE to make sure the state fulfills its promises to the most vulnerable members of our society. We urge you to ask for the actual amount needed to reach adequacy by 2027 - Our experts have just revised the necessary increase to 1.4 billion dollars every year until 2027. While it may feel good to increase funding by $300 or 350 million dollars, this is not the time for small measures. Illinois schools and families need a bare minimum of at least 1 billion dollars to even make a dent in our inequitable education system. Anything less keeps students from low income and rural communities from achieving their potential for decades. 

I’d like to highlight here another source of funds that could be redirected to new EBF dollars: the Invest in Kids tax credit voucher program. This was passed at the same time as the EBF, but is not evidence-based, since vouchers do not improve academic outcomes, and it is not equitable, since many schools taking voucher dollars discriminate against students in protected categories. I urge the State Board to advocate, along with their proposed budget, for the sunsetting of Invest in Kids. It diverted more than $50million dollars to private schools last year alone. By canceling this voucher program, the state should be able to produce more revenue that can be used to partially fulfill its promise to fully fund the EBF. 

Thank you for everything you do for our families.