Four GOP senators press state education board on school funding delays
Four Republican senators made it clear to Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) officials how upset they were with the school funding holdup at Tuesday's Senate Education Committee hearing on the SB650 Mandate Waiver.
ISBE Superintendent Tony Smith and Chief Financial Officer Robert Wolfe were grilled for more than an hour at the hearing by lawmakers who wanted to know since the veto of SB444, dealing with school funding, was overriden, how an influx of questions has now kept $350 million from flowing freely into the 850 school districts.
Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods) wanted to know exactly what technical changes are causing the holdup.
“There is the question of intent and what is actually written,” Smith said, adding questions including should ISBE count money that districts do not have access to have emerged. “That was one question that came forward right out of the gate.”
Another question was the funding of early learning programs because that was not posed in the bill, which according to Smith, has raised 20 issues in total.
“We are trying to understand to what extent these changes are technical in nature verses substantive because there was some point in the past there was an embracing of this language from ISBE a year ago,” McConchie said.
Like McConchie, Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) confronted the officials on the funding flow and the fact that they have changed their distribution model from normal curve equivalent to evidence-based cumulative circulation.
Despite what the label is, cumulative distribution is being used based on percentile ranking, Wolfe said.
“I was somebody that supported this bill,” Rezin said, adding she and other members have worked at length on the funding that has seen bipartisan support. “It was on the biggest policy changes seen in 20 years, and we all went to the signing of the bill, and I saw people in the room that I thought I would never see together so I do appreciate that.”
However, pleasure went to problems since new questions have been raised and the Senate has been the last to see the alterations, she said.
“Certain groups received drafts of the trailer bill before our staff was able to see it,” Rezin said. “The question is why, since we sat at the table with you.”
“I don’t think it went that way, I think we have always tried to share,” Smith said. “That is not my experience that we excluded anyone. If fact we have been hyper-inclusive and have had a process that has had me take considerable heat shall we say from both sides.”
Like Rezin, Sen. Chuck Weaver (R-Peoria) was unhappy with the procedure.
“I think you said yes you understood her, but do you agree that we need to be involved early in the process and have our ability to help direct this as opposed to after the process?” Weaver asked.
“You were not after the process and we will continue to include everybody at the same time,” Smith said.
Along with being more involved, Weaver wanted to know why a Professional Review Board is yet to be formed.
“Is there a reason that panel is not up and running so we can be engaged,” Weaver asked, with neither Smith nor Wolfe able to recall the language in the bill that has kept a group from forming. “I guess if you don’t find language to say wait a year then, is there a reason why I can’t have a commitment from you to get that up and running?”
Smith said he will look at the language specifically and if possible form the panel quicker.
Weaver also wanted a commitment from Smith that next year, before speaking to the press, ISBE will have their facts straight. “I think it sends a totally different message out to people with what expectations are,” Weaver said.
Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) made it clear ISBE's “house is not in order.” In a very heated back-and-forth with Smith, the two were interrupted by Committee Chair Rep. Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (D-Planfield), who attempted to resolve the conflict, but Barickman would not have it.
“What about the taxpayers who foot the bill for this?” Barickman asked. “Do you have a bunch of emails and phone calls that you want to produce here that show the widespread support for the confusion again that exists coming out of the state board?”
The representative said many of the dozens of superintendents in his district have reached out to him.
“Jason, I don’t know if I am going to get any money this year because what I am hearing from ISBE is they have not determined whether or not they can implement the law,” Barickman said. “Jason, what can you ascertain? What Jason can ascertain is Dr. Smith is in front of me and seemingly not enjoying the questions that are being asked.”
The legislative intent does not match the law, Smith said, noting it is ISBE’s constitutional right to question legislators.
“The job of the state board is in fact to advocate for the children and the district,” Smith said. “It says in your Constitution that we should recommend financing, we should recommend polices, and in fact we should support our districts.”
According to Smith, some funding will begin to flow in April.