School Finance Coalitions See Success in 2016
January 5, 2017

A Policy Map Snapshot

School funding disparities and broken funding formulas have become a hot topic in many state legislatures. In PIE Network’s 2016 annual priorities survey, 58% of participating members indicated they engaged (either through legislation or implementation efforts) in school finance policy in the 2016 legislative session. While PIE Network members can explore the Policy Map for greater detail on all the school finance campaigns of 2016, below are two states, Arizona and Illinois, where education finance issues took center-stage in the political debate.

Advocacy Organizations Work on Illinois’ Inequitable School Funding System

For the third year in a row, education funding reform was a major legislative issue in Illinois. Three PIE Network Organizations – Advance Illinois, Stand for Children Illinois, and Educators 4 Excellence-Chicago worked on the issue in the legislature. Senate Democrats continued to be champions on this issue and passed SB 231, which never received a vote in the House. SB 231 would implement a more progressive funding system by moving Illinois’ current regressive funding formula to an integrated formula based on a school district’s student population, and providing the local ability to financially support those students.

There were several large obstacles to overcome in 2016, including legislative gridlock, no FY16 budget, an $8 billion backlog of bills, electoral politics, a Chicago vs. downstate narrative, and an inability to find compromise. In PIE Network’s 2016 legislative survey, Advance Illinois shared that the main point of contention for the bill was that without a significant influx of new dollars to education, shifting the formula will mean shifting dollars from some districts to support low-income districts. Though the current version of the legislation includes hold harmless provisions in the first year and beyond to prevent such shifts, many legislators were unable – particularly in an election year – to overcome the possibility of their districts receiving less funding in the future.

Even though SB 231 did not become law, advocates gained ground on this issue. Funding reform has risen to an issue of prominence in Illinois. Media and legislators alike are well-versed in the issue, and all stakeholders and government officials agree on the need to do something. Funding formula legislation is expected to be a top issue in 2017 and additional stakeholders are becoming more engaged. It also provided opportunities for broader engagement. For example, Educators 4 Excellence-Chicago is bringing teachers to meet with legislators serving on a funding task force. The task force is comprised of bipartisan elected officials from the house and senate along with five members of the governor’s cabinet. They plan to track the conversation, add teacher voice and perspective, and advocate if a bill is drafted that takes into account both adequacy and equity when creating a new formula.

Contact information:

Arizona Coalition Overcomes Complicated Issues and Tough Conversations to Increase Per Pupil Funding

The most significant issue and development in K-12 policy in Arizona in 2016 was the special election on Proposition 123. PIE Network members Expect More Arizona and Stand for Children Arizona supported Prop 123, which increased per pupil funding to $4,350 per student from $3,600 by July 1, 2019. Developed as a way to settle the Cave Creek v. DeWit lawsuit in regards to funding district and charter schools for inflation, Prop 123 was a complicated issue – one that utilized a fund (state trust lands) that many voters were unfamiliar with and misunderstood.

Ultimately, Proposition 123 brought together a diverse coalition to put $3.5 billion dollars into K-12 without raising taxes. The Arizona governor, a bipartisan group of elected leaders, education organizations including Expect More Arizona and Stand for Children Arizona, business leaders, civil rights groups, and the philanthropic community joined together to push this over the finish line.  Opposition came in the form of strong partisans from both the right and left. The “Yes” campaign had to educate and persuade, and do so utilizing different messages for polarized audiences. Due to both a heavy earned media campaign and a community presentation-based outreach model, the unprecedented coalition convinced a majority of voters to vote “Yes.”

Advocates hope to build off the coalition’s momentum to improve Arizona school funding. In an open letter to voters, Pearl Chang Esau, Executive Director of Expect More Arizona wrote: “Proposition 123 is an important first step toward increased K-12 funding, but we’ve always known we need to do more. Now that the election is behind us, we need to come back together and forge the road to a long-term solution to increase education funding that focuses on equity and excellence in student achievement.”

Contact information:

  • Ed Sanchez, Government Affairs Director, Stand for Children Arizona
  • Geoff Esposito, Director of Policy and Programs, Expect More Arizona

There were seven other PIE Network organizations that shared about their 2016 work around funding formulas and school finance:

  • RI-CAN: Preserving Charter Funding
  • Fordham Ohio: Close the Funding Gap Between School Choice Programs and Traditional Public Schools
  • Prichard Committee: Maintain Funding for K-12 in State Budget
  • MBAE: Leverage Membership on Foundation Budget Review Commission
  • ConnCAN: Preserving Charter Funding
  • MarylandCAN: Create a Student-Centered Budget to give Principals more Autonomy
  • Rodel Foundation: Lay the Groundwork for Funding Equity Changes  
  • Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education: Change to Student-based Funding Formula  

You can head to the policy map to learn more about those campaigns.

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This blog is the third of a series highlighting important advocacy work of 2016. All information from this post, plus much more, can be found on the PIE Network’s Policy Map, which contains in-depth information about the campaigns and legislative actions of member organizations dating back to 2013. Additionally, each action includes lessons learned, resources, bill language, and contact information. For a brief overview of what each organization worked on in 2016, view the 2016 Legislative and Policy Brief.


Sarah Grunewald

Sarah is PIE Network's Deputy Executive Director for Program Strategy


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