Evidence-Based Funding: How Districts are Discussing ROI
By Eric DePorter, CSBO
Asst. Supt./Finance, Facilities & Operations
Glen Ellyn SD 41
Frances LaBella, CSBO
Asst. Supt./Business Operations
Flossmoor SD 161
Brian O'Keeffe, Ed. D., CSBO, SFO
Asst. Supt./Business Operations
Wheaton CUSD 200
Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law Public Act 100-0465 or the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act on August 31, 2017. This law changed how school districts receive the bulk of state funds by sending more resources to Illinois' most under-resourced students. More than five years later, three school districts in three different tiers discuss the EBF model and its effect on their district's decision-making.
Return on Investment (ROI) is a financial term used to calculate the benefit an investor will receive in relation to their investment cost. So, how does a school district calculate its ROI? The Evidence Based Funding (EBF) model was developed to assist districts in exactly that, determining if the programs invested in by schools are producing a beneficial return as determined by student outcomes. The EBF model gives school districts the ability to compare where they are spending their funds compared to what the model, using evidence-based research, tells us will produce student achievement. For example, the model recommends a staffing ratio for K-3 low-income students of 15:1 and non-low-income students of 20:1. How many students, on average, are in your district’s K-3 classrooms? Has the district’s staffing ratio led to improved student performance? Here is how three different school districts use EBF information to make both financial and curricular decisions.
Tier 1/Tier 2
At 73 percent of the adequacy target, Flossmoor District 161 is a Tier 1 PK-8 grade school district in the south suburban region of Illinois. Prior to the adjustment of the tiers in the 2023 school year, District 161 was a Tier 2 district. The district is very interested in identifying the factors that will have the greatest impact on student achievement and directing the district’s funds towards those factors. To achieve this goal, the district administration began a hard look at where funds were currently being spent and whether these areas were in line with the EBF model indicators. During the 2022-23 budget cycle, the district compared staffing ratios for core instruction teachers, specialist teachers, core interventionists and instructional coaches with the model indicators. Additionally, some areas that are modeled on a dollar per student basis, such as gifted and talented, professional development and instructional materials, were also compared with the EBF model investment cost factors.
Flossmoor was able to identify some barriers to EBF model ratios. The first major barrier was space. With schools at or near capacity, additional classroom space to add a class and reduce class size is a significant challenge. To address this challenge, the district has increased core interventionists. However, that places the district in a ratio that is better than the EBF model would indicate has an impact on achievement. Therefore, the curricular teams are now investigating how much student achievement is improved by the core interventionists. How many are supported by actual student achievement data?
Another challenge to implementing the EBF indicators with fidelity is taking a reflective, unbiased review of current practices. For example, Flossmoor has a gifted and talented program that has been in practice for a long time and is a source of pride for the district. The EBF model would indicate that the district is spending twice as much money on that program than is supported by evidence-based research. The district is also investigating if the additional funds are producing student achievement outcomes.
At 95.29% of the adequacy target, Community Unit School District 200 (CUSD 200) is a Tier 3 PK-12 unit school district in central DuPage County. CUSD 200 has been in Tier 3 since the EBF model took effect in Fiscal Year 2018 (CUSD 200 was at 90.2% in FY 2018).
Today, the EBF model is used to help support staffing conversations with each of our building and department leaders as we prepare for the next school year. Full-time equivalent's (FTEs) by the program in the model are compared to existing program FTEs at the local level. We then look for any significant gaps between how we are currently staffed compared to the model. If there are identified gaps, we begin conversations to determine what additional resources are required based on program/student needs and review the required resources and any obstacles or barriers to adding the identified resource. Obstacles could include financial restraints, facility restraints, contractual restraints and access to professional talent in the field of need. It is our responsibility as educators to remove barriers to supporting student needs, but it must be acknowledged that barriers exist and can complicate your ability to execute, no matter your dedication and desire for change.
Looking into the future, and as CUSD 200 moves closer to adequate funding as defined by the EBF model (100 percent), I would expect our discussions will move away from identifying how to use new EBF dollars from an FTE programming perspective on an annual basis to how our existing programs and the dedicated FTEs are aligned to student academic, social and emotional growth. As noted in Mr. DePorter’s paragraph on the next page, movement into Tier 4 leads to minimal changes in EBF funding, so our internal discourse should naturally move to discussions about program efficacy.
Glen Ellyn School District 41 is a Tier 4 district with an adequacy calculation of 114 percent for FY23. Since the inception of the EBF model, our adequacy calculation has been in the range of 105 percent up to our current level of 114 percent.
With the variability of our funding as a Tier 4 district being minimal, we have focused on how the different data viewpoints provided by the EBF calculations can help us to analyze our current program offerings. Specifically, we’ve looked at what the adequacy calculations call for and compared them to what we provide as a district. In doing so, we have found quite a few areas where differences exist.
One of the more useful comparisons we have focused on is FTE counts. Being able to point to what the model calls for and then comparing it to what we have, has led to better programmatic review conversations. In every district, conversations occur about staffing levels and whether the model and staffing level in place is appropriate. By referencing the EBF calculations, we now have a third-party voice to support our conclusions.
In addition to assisting with staffing levels, it has served well as a tool during negotiations with our teachers union. Referencing the official EBF model calculations has proved useful in situations where disagreements about appropriate staffing levels have surfaced. In the past, we have relied on internally completed comparisons with neighboring districts, which have been deemed somewhat subjective by our union. With the EBF model results now available, those conversations have been far more efficient as the data source is believed to be more objective.
Ultimately, we all have to go through the process of identifying what path to take to deliver the best educational experience for our students. The emergence of the EBF model has provided a new tool to help support, or at times contradict, the path we think most appropriate. While the ultimate goal of the EBF model is to achieve a better level of parity in education funding, being knowledgeable about the many data points available will hopefully add even more value to Illinois School Districts.