Education Funding in Illinois: How the Evidence-Based Model Works

Revising the state's current formula for funding schools is the goal for a commission of lawmakers appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner and leaders in Springfield.

Even the governor has expressed interest in a particular method that advocates have touted, called the evidence-based model.

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Brandis Friedman: Since 2009, the state has said it costs just over $6,000 per year to educate a student in Illinois. But many education advocates argue that's not enough. 

And Concordia University research professor Michelle Turner Mangan says the way the state calculates that amount is also out of date.

So how much does it cost to “adequately” educate Illinois public school students? And how do you determine that amount?

Mangan used what's called the evidence-based funding model to calculate just how much the state should be spending per student.

Michelle Turner Mangan: It looks at all the elements of how you build a school essentially, so if you have x number of students–450 in elementary or 600 in high school–then how many principals should you have? How many teachers should you have?

Michelle Turner ManganMichelle Turner Mangan

We sort of delineate between core teachers–so the ones that are in the classrooms–and then specialist teachers, which also do the important work of art, music, physical education.

Friedman: Mangan says the model is based on the actual cost of implementing strategies proven by research to improve student performance.

Those strategies include tutoring, extended school days and academic summer school; and small class sizes of no more than 15 students in kindergarten through third grade rooms.

Mangan: For example, when class size becomes an issue, a lot of times the option is, “Well what if we just give you an aide?” Because that’s like sort of another body in the classroom. Well, that's actually not effective. If your choice was between two teachers and an aide in each classroom, or three teachers, people pick–let me have the aide. They want the extra help. But that's not necessarily what's going to help increase student test scores.

Friedman: And ongoing intensive teacher training and more professional development, including instructional coaches in all schools.

Mangan: They're modeling for the teacher, showing them the most effective practices, and then they’re also giving feedback to the teachers.

Friedman: But here's the catch: This funding model is far more expensive than the state's current formula.

Mangan: Different districts have different demographics. So we have a base; the base would be about $10,300 per pupil. So no matter where you are, that's would be what's expected to be funded. And then, depending on if you have a certain percentage of low-income students, students with English language learning needs, and special education, then you get additional amounts above that, so the average would be about $14,100 per pupil. But that would differ depending on what your district demographics were.

Friedman: So, there's a base cost of over $10,000 per student. Then factor in more money to educate English-language learners, at-risk students and special education.

The average total comes to more than $14,000 per student. That's about $5.2 billion more than the state currently spends per year.

Mangan says if Illinois does choose this funding model, it could be implemented over 10 years, learning valuable lessons from other states.

Mangan: Arkansas had this 2003 Lakeview court decision. They increased their school funding. Then in 2006 we went and studied (what they did) differently with it. And what we learned was that they really just, everybody got a little bit more in every category, so it was not targeted. So, even though it was based, the amount was based on the evidence-based model, they let everybody just have local control. Essentially, teacher salaries went up and test scores did not.

In California, they at one point tried to reduce the class sizes all at once, and they didn't have enough teachers, they didn’t have enough room in the actual schools. So there were all these kids in trailers with sub-standard teachers, because they weren't qualified.

So, if we were to do this here, it would be something where you would want to do a facilities studies to make sure, “OK, we do have the room, or we need to build.”

Friedman: While some lawmakers in Springfield are beginning to advocate for this funding model, the trick, of course, is getting the General Assembly to agree on paying for these levels.

More on the story

Even former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called on Springfield politicians to find a way to revise the system.

On Thursday, we’ll report on what steps lawmakers are taking to pay for such a change.

Follow Brandis Friedman on Twitter: @BrandisFriedman

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Aug. 23: Facing the largest equity gap in the country, Illinois state leaders are considering an evidence-based approach designed to ensure every student has the opportunity to succeed in the classroom.

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