Nobody is happy with the way Illinois now distributes some $6.8 billion to local school districts throughout the state. The current formula relies heavily on property taxes, leaving school districts in impoverished communities severely underfunded. Schools in affluent areas have strong budgets because residents pay high property taxes.
In theory, state funding is supposed to be the great equalizer, ensuring that students have the same resources regardless of where they live. In practice, it hasn't worked that way.
State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, spent much of the last two years trying to find a solution. His resulting bill generated a lot of emotional debate and showed why this topic is a political minefield for lawmakers. Manar explains his motivation for tackling this vexing issue:
[Y]ou get an increasing number of rural and urban schools cutting back on the educational opportunities they offer students because the state isn't keeping up with the costs, and there's simply not enough resources locally to meet the needs. These cutbacks further hamper economic opportunity in the lives of children that live in poverty.
Meanwhile, across Chicagoland, growing suburban schools increasingly turn to local homeowners and their property taxes to foot the bills the state won't pay.
It's a tragic situation that only serves to widen the economic and educational fissures that plague our system of public schools.
But state Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove, says that while Illinois' school-funding system needs some help, the steps outlined in SB 16 amount to the state playing Robin Hood.
But state funding for education should not be about winners and losers. It should also not pit the collar county schools against Chicago and downstate schools.
Yet Senate Bill 16 (sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, and Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora), does precisely that. It takes aim at specific school districts and strips General State Aid (GSA) away to create a new list of winners and losers. This proposal reminds me of an Abraham Lincoln quip, "You can't make a weak man strong by making a strong man weak."
Check out more of both of their arguments at Reboot Illinois to help you decide for yourself where you stand on SB 16.