Editorials

School those wannabe lawmakers before they head to Springfield

State lawmakers added 132 unfunded mandates on schools from 2000 to 2014. There were 12 added during the 1990s.
State lawmakers added 132 unfunded mandates on schools from 2000 to 2014. There were 12 added during the 1990s. Illinois Policy

The three O’Fallon school district leaders recently decried the state of our state’s budget and how it affects them. They have a legitimate gripe that we’ve heard before from other school leaders and will hear again.

The question, though, is whether any of those folks who on Nov. 8 are seeking to go or return to Springfield is really listening.

Schools were given six months of money at the “foundation level.” That is $6,119 per student, partly from the state and partly from property taxpayers based on the wealth of the district. It is considered the basic amount needed to educate a child in Illinois and is a goal that has yet to be met or updated.

Here are a few realities.

First, Illinois schools spend anywhere from $6,000 to $30,000 per student. Where a kid lives matters most, because property taxes provide the bulk of education spending.

Second, for the past seven years the state has short-changed kids — or essentially lied to them. The state only paid 89 percent of its share towards the foundation level funding, and it was a major breakthrough when Springfield got it up to 92 percent last year.

Third, as O’Fallon Township High School Superintendent Darcy Benway pointed out, the foundation level hasn’t changed since 2008. Since then there was a recession, property values plummeted and state lawmakers kept on merrily passing demands on schools without providing the money to meet those demands — 132 of those demands between 2000 and 2014, compared to 12 in the prior decade.

So when that candidate comes to your door and asks for your vote, you might want to spend some time asking what that candidate plans to do about school education funding. Then ask what budget sacrifices that candidate will make to get schools funded, or whether that candidate will just come clean and fess up to the massive state income tax and property tax hikes awaiting us all after the election is over.

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