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Illinois Chief Proposes Finance Plan

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Springfield, Ill--State Superintendent Donald G. Gill has recommended to the Illinois Board of Education the institution of a sweeping school-finance-reform plan that features an innovative "resource-cost model" to determine local districts' financial needs.

Mr. Gill's proposal to the board late last week represents the third facet of a three-part plan expected to become the focal point of school-reform activity when the new General Assembly convenes in January.

The first two components--both of which have been approved by the board--involve changes in the preparation, recruitment, and performance of school personnel and a curriculum reform based on "outcome statements" detailing what students should know as a result of their schooling. (See Education Week, June 6, 1984.) The school-finance proposal will be the subject of board hearings throughout the state over the next few months.

Cost-Based System

The most novel feature of Mr. Gill's plan is a cost-based system for distributing state dollars. Under the plan, which was developed over a three-year period by Associates for Education Finance and Planning, a Stanford, Calif., consulting firm, virtually all educational services would be folded into a single state-aid formula instead of separating general state aid from support for various categorical programs, such as special, bilingual, gifted, and vocational education.

The recommended plan comprises a cost-of-education index, which measures the minimum costs districts incur for services or commodities, and a "program-cost-differentials process," which is designed to account for the differences in resources required for different mixes of students.

State-board estimates put the price tag for the proposed plan at $2.5 billion, $708 million above the current year's state funding.

Mr. Gill, who won the board's approval to initiate the finance project in May 1981 after complaining that the current "resource-equalizer'' system was a "crazy-quilt pattern" of school finance, said his proposal "provides for Illinois educators a tool that allows us to better explain to citizens the real needs of education and the impact that insufficient funding has on the quality and types of educational services provided."

"Because it is based on services provided, it offers accountability for legislators, local citizens, and those with special interests," he added.

Additional Recommendations

Among Mr. Gill's other recommendations to the board were:

Adding personal income to property assessments as a factor in determining local district wealth and ability to support schools. Mr. Gill said the Illinois property-assessment system is an ineffective and unfair measure of a district's ability to pay for educational programs. Moreover, he noted, "current literature on public finance emphasizes the importance of personal income levels as a measure of the fiscal capacity of local governments to pay for their responsibilities."

Using enrollment rather than attendance data as an element in the resource-cost model. Districts whose attendance levels fall below 95 percent of enrollment would be penalized with the loss of some state aid.

Ensuring that at least 80 percent of state funds distributed through the resource-cost model go to the programs that generated the need. The superintendent said the provision would guarantee that "students receive appropriate levels of needed services" while giving local officials flexibility in spending the educational dollar.

Altering local-district tax rates to eliminate what he suggested was an imbalanced system that shortchanges elementary-school districts.

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