Great Schools Now Blog

Divvy Bikes and Education Funding

By Rich Haglund, Chief Operating Officer at INCS

Now that spring appears to be fully present in Chicago, I face more competition for Divvy bikes (Chicago’s bike-sharing program). Sometimes I have to walk to a second or third dock near the train station to get a bike to ride to my office.

I admit I’m sometimes tempted to walk faster or even run to the next station if I see only a handful of bikes and 50 commuters walking that direction. Since they don’t all wear helmets and even if they planned to, might have their helmets hidden in bags, I don’t know who I’m competing with.

Unlike finding a Divvy bike within a certain radius of the train station, I do not believe that funding education adequately based on the needs of individual students is a zero-sum game. There are only so many bikes. But there is plenty of money floating around across the entire state to pay great school leaders and teachers, to provide learning-inspiring facilities, and to meet the needs of special education students.

Illinois school districts (of which there are over 800) receive state funds for several different categories of costs. Transportation, state special education, costs for students in residential treatment centers, and other categories all require separate accounting and administration. In addition, as in all states, districts have to apply separately, on a reimbursement basis, for federal funds like Individuals with Disabilities in Education (IDEA), Title I, and Title III.

As articulated in this Advance Illinois report, Illinois’ state funding system is regressive and does not account for the fiscal capacity of districts (sales or property taxes, personal income of residents, e.g.) or the clear needs of a district’s particular students. “More than half of Illinois state education dollars go to districts regardless of their wealth . . . For every dollar Illinois spends on a non-low-income student, the state spends only 81 cents on a low-income student.”

It is time to simplify education funding so that districts and other public school operators and even parents can understand how it works. Simplifying the funding will also increase efficiency and thereby save more money spent on administration at the local and state level that can be spent instead in the classroom. It is also time to make the funding more equitable, providing a number of funds needed to serve students as they show up. If that means that districts with greater fiscal capacity get a little less money from the state, that’s OK.

If I don’t get a Divvy bike in the morning, what’s the worst that could happen? I have to walk 25 minutes to the office, instead of riding for 10. If a wealthier district gets a little less state education funding, what’s the worst that could happen? The high school football team might have to use the same field for practice and games.