SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (IRN) – Some lawmakers want to change the way the state pays its schools. Amid budget cuts, millions of dollars in unpaid bills and possible pension changes that would cost schools significantly more money, some are concerned about the education of Illinois’ future generation.
Illinois gives the least amount of state aid to its schools in the nation. On average school districts receive about 30 percent of their revenue from the state and raise about 60 percent locally. School districts in most states receive more than half their revenue from the state.
That means the gap between wealthy and poor school districts in Illinois is wider than other states says State Rep. Will Davis (D-Homewood), who chairs the K-12 education committee. He says he wants to discuss alternatives to make state aid more equitable. Every school district, no matter how wealthy, receives at least some state aid. Davis says he would consider shifting some of the money that goes to wealthy school districts to pay for poorer ones.
“These are districts that already have tremendous amounts of property wealth and are already paying significant dollars per pupil to educate their children,” Davis says.
However, about 95 percent of state aid already goes to districts that are below the recommended per pupil level.
The state constitution says “the State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.” But the 1973 state Supreme Court decision Blase v. Illinois stated that was only a goal. That means the state doesn’t have to be the main source of revenue for schools.
Gerry Chico, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education, says the state’s fiscal mess is creating the perfect storm for an education system that’s already underfunded. This year Illinois is pro-rating its state aid to schools by 89 percent. That means school districts are getting less state aid than the state originally obligated.
“You got a little bit of a hollow promise here,” Chico says. “Over the last couple years we have not been meeting that. We have been coming in at $6,000 [minimum amount of state, local and federal dollars per pupil] maybe coming in at $5,900 this year.”
Chico says if the trend continues education will suffer tremendously, businesses won’t want to hire Illinois’ graduates and the quality of life for the next generation will decline.
“That’s the wrong way to be going. We’re already at the bottom of the barrel in state support of public education,” Chico says. “You can’t go any lower.”
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