Rockford Public Schools Superintendent Ehren Jarrett is in Springfield today to support a bill that would provide additional funding for the poorest students in Rockford and Illinois. He testified for Senate Bill 436, which passed the Senate Executive Committee with bipartisan support after a hearing today at the Capitol. The bill aims to stop Title I penalties for Illinois schools – including RPS 205.
Jarrett joins several public school and fair funding advocates in supporting the Senate legislation, sponsored by Sen. Steve Stadelman. The bill would enable districts to invest more federal dollars in the most valuable support for poor and special needs students: teachers.
Here’s how funding works now: The federal government awards grant money to school districts like Rockford through Title I, which supports low-income students. Title I dollars are supposed to offset the achievement gap between high-income and low-income families through additional resources, like teachers. But in Illinois, when districts spend their Title I money on teachers, they pay a 36 percent surcharge because of a broken pension funding system. Districts must pay not only their own portion of pension costs through the Teachers Retirement System—about 7 percent--but the state’s portion, too.
The bottom line: About $2 million of roughly $14 million in Title I dollars in RPS 205 doesn’t make it to the classroom because of the broken pension formula.
“We know our teachers are the best resource to help our students,” Jarrett said. “We want to spend those federal dollars wisely and not have to siphon off support for the students who need it most. I am so grateful to Sen. Stadelman and our local legislative delegation for bringing this issue to the forefront.”
According to a Rockford Register Star investigation published in May: “For nearly a decade, Illinois has charged public school districts an exorbitant fee on federal funds intended to support the education of poor children and funneled most of the money, $59 million last year alone, to help cover the state's unfunded pension liability.”
The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote. Click to view a fact sheet by fair funding advocates, “Stop the TRS Federal Funds ‘Surcharge.’”