Illinois’ school funding formula is out of whack because state lawmakers have failed to update it for nearly 30 years and because Illinois is so heavily dependent upon property taxes for school funding. Property taxes are so high because lawmakers have also failed to provide the major share of school funding as called for in the state’s constitution.
Let’s call that chicken and egg scenario No. 1.
Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and lawmakers of both political parties all say they need to revamp the school funding formula. Some say they cannot do that without more money, and there won’t be more money until Rauner gets some of his reforms that Democrats refuse to consider and both agree to a new state budget — now 227 days late.
Let’s call that chicken and egg scenario No. 2.
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Now add the elections and lawmakers fearing backlash from any school formula that robs from the rich to give to the poor. They will gain political capital by saying they plan to move fast, but in reality they will do nothing until after voters return them to their comfy seats in the statehouse.
Let’s just call that the chicken scenario.
Illinois leads the nation in the funding gap between rich and poor school districts, according to an analysis by the Education Trust. In fact with a nearly 20 percent funding gap, Illinois has nearly double the inequity as the next-worst state, New York.
While Rauner and others decry taking from one student to benefit another, the reality is that it costs more to educate a poor urban or a poor rural student. The state must fix its finances so that schools don’t continue balancing budgets by going to property taxpayers who see their burden amplified as municipalities strip away those taxes with tax increment financing for possible commercial development.
East St. Louis District 189 has been receiving U.S. Department of Education funding in the form of School Improvement Grants to the tune of $21.8 million. Trouble is, that money is temporary with the high school grant ending this summer and only four of the district’s 12 schools being targeted.
The money has made an incremental difference, but how fair is it that your child be denied a better chance at academic success just because a neighboring school is worse? How wise is it to create hope and expect the effort to be sustained without the added resources?
Systemic problems need more than lip service and spot treatment. Lawmakers need to fix the school funding formula, and should be brave enough to do so before November elections rather than handing Illinois children yet another year in which where they live determines the quality of their public education.