Editorials

Believing in fair school funding, fairies, elves

On average it takes $6,119 to educate a student in Illinois, but for the past seven years the state promised a share and then delivered 87 to 92 percent of that amount. Here, Brittany Becker teaches her 6th-grade class at Union Elementary School in Belleville.
On average it takes $6,119 to educate a student in Illinois, but for the past seven years the state promised a share and then delivered 87 to 92 percent of that amount. Here, Brittany Becker teaches her 6th-grade class at Union Elementary School in Belleville. snagy@bnd.com

We lie to our kids: Not about fat men bearing presents or miniature winged beings leaving coins for shed teeth, but about what we’re investing in their educations.

For the past seven years we, through our elected state representatives, have allow the lies. We say we will provide a dollar, but then only give them between 87 cents and 92 cents.

Illinois says it takes an average of $6,119 a year to educate a student. If a district can raise $4,000 from property taxes, then the state kicks in $2,119 — theoretically.

The reality is that for the past seven years there’s been the promise of a basic, foundation level of funding and then the reality as school districts deal with how much of that amount lawmakers actually provide. This year it is 92 percent, but last year it was 87 percent — $275 less than promised, or rather a $275 lie to each Illinois student.

State lawmakers have shorted Illinois students $3.8 billion at the same time 140 additional unfunded mandates have been placed on our schools. Multiple state aid formulas have created disparities and allowed property taxes to be abused as schools try to make up for the state’s unmet promises.

So this past week the Illinois Senate passed a school funding formula that tried to fix the discrepancies and bridge the political realities in Springfield. It would have slowly robbed from the richest districts over four years and boosted the poorest over seven years.

Republicans are calling the plan a bailout for Chicago schools. There’s a serious question as to whether it will go anywhere in Mike Madigan’s House, where he is expected to tie up education spending with the overall budget — keeping students hostages of our state dysfunction.

Remember, state lawmakers should be working on the 2017 budget now ahead of the July 1 fiscal year but are 320 days late on 2016’s budget. The past 11 months of uncontrolled spending is expected to swell our state deficit to $11 billion.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has been pushing a plan that would tell school districts what to expect and fully fund that foundation level, as well as boost preschool spending. He wants that promise kept, and then to have lawmakers work to finally fix the state’s outdated and unfair school funding formula.

Rauner’s principle that our state’s No. 1 obligation is to educate our children is correct. They need certainty that textbooks will be purchased, teachers will be paid and the lights will be on in August.

We do that, regardless of politics and in an honest manner, and the rest of the state’s spending stands in line behind that priority.

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