Editorial: Second chance on school funding fix

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted1/9/2015 5:01 AM

It's hard to oppose ending disparity in educational funding in Illinois.

Logic, if nothing else, says students in one school ought to have the same kind of quality education as students in another school.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But there are many hurdles and many hidden facets to achieving that goal.

That's why we'll be closely watching State Sen. Andy Manar's efforts to resurrect and retool a controversial redistribution of state school funds once the new General Assembly is sworn in next week.

Manar told Daily Herald staff writer Erin Hegarty he plans changes to the bill, which wasn't called for a vote in the House last fall, but he wouldn't specify what the changes will be.

While some suburban school districts -- notably Elgin Area School District U-46, the state's second largest -- backed Manar's original bill, others were near panic in their opposition to a measure that would have cost them millions of dollars.

What's needed is a proposal that includes strong input from schools on both sides of the issue. Districts that stand to gain have an obvious incentive, but all districts have an important role in deciding an issue that isn't likely to go away, as Manar's renewed efforts demonstrate.

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Key to a successful approach is figuring out a way to avoid taking money away.

Just as disparity is unfair, so is abruptly cutting funding levels to some of the state's schools.

That is an immense challenge at a time when school funding could shrink overall. State income taxes dropped Jan. 1 from 5 percent to 3.75 percent, creating a financial hole that could mean cuts for schools across the board if there's no new source of state revenue pretty quickly.

Perhaps changes could be phased in over time so while school districts that have strong local property tax revenue might see little growth in state funding, they wouldn't see actual cutbacks.

But that can only happen if the total school funding pie gets bigger over time.

Illinois' school aid system in recent years has evolved into a variety of grants, adjustments and special allocations dispersed according to different criteria. It's time to fix it, with a focus on students' needs and not on regional divisions in the state. But it will take fortitude and resolve from all of the parties involved.

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