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posted: 5/14/2014 9:47 AM

Editorial: Failing grade for school funding fix

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

This could be an expensive session of the Illinois General Assembly for suburban taxpayers.

At the same time Gov. Pat Quinn is pushing to make permanent an income tax increase that was to expire at year's end, legislation that would significantly alter the state's school funding formula -- and no doubt result in property tax increases in the suburbs -- is being debated.

We agree that the school funding formula is complicated, potentially unfair and needs to be studied. But we don't agree that it should be changed on the backs of suburban taxpayers.

"We're having rich and thoughtful discussions about the haves and have-nots and how money's being distributed," state Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch told The Associated Press in a story published in the Daily Herald Monday. "We need this conversation."

Yes, it's helpful to have a meaningful conversation to make sure needs of the entire state are met. But that AP story highlights the problem for many of the school districts in the Daily Herald circulation area. Under the proposal put forth by state Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from downstate Bunker Hill, downstate Pana's school district would receive a 30 percent increase in state funding or about $1.7 million. In contrast, Barrington Unit District 220 would lose $5.3 million a year -- about 80 percent of what it currently receives. That's too much of a hit and would almost assuredly need to be replaced by higher property taxes from District 220 taxpayers.

"I would agree that the current way we're doing things is not making sense and it's probably not fair across the state," District 220 Superintendent Ton Leonard told the AP. "But some of the costs we have are not the same as others."

For example, he said, teacher salaries are much higher in the suburbs than downstate. All of that needs to be taken into account with a funding fix. According to the AP, 69 of 78 districts in Cook County would lose funding under the proposed scenario and 122 of 143 districts in the collar counties.

We urge suburban representatives to fight the current legislation but to continue working on finding a more equitable solution to the school aid formula. It was last changed in 1997. While general state aid for education is based on a formula that factors in poverty levels, grants for special education, transportation and vocational training do not factor in poverty. The money for those programs has increased greater than general state aid has as the state deals with its financial woes.

One offset we liked hearing from Koch was a possibility of removing a requirement that forces school districts to pay for state mandates the state doesn't fund. More of that kind of thinking is what's needed if a compromise is to be found.

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