By Coleman McJessy
Recently, the Illinois General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1947, a first attempt to restructure the inequitable education funding that has defined Illinois for years.
Here’s the Breakdown:
Illinois’ school funding system has historically disadvantaged struggling school districts by allocating state money based upon performance and local property taxes. The new bill shifts Illinois state school funding to become allocated based upon need.
The new plan will assess schools’ necessary funding using statistics such as the number of students per district, the number of students living in poverty, and the number of special needs students.
Using these metrics, the state will then gauge how much the school district will be able to raise from property taxes and any remaining needed funds will be contributed from state aid. Ultimately, this restructuring of funding will result in higher amounts of state funding for impoverished schools.
In Chicago, this legislation also will allow the Chicago Board of Education to increase property taxes by approximately 2.5% per homeowner, generating an additional $125 million for Chicago Public Schools.
Perhaps the most important outcome is that the bill shifts some teacher pension costs to the state, a move that will save CPS $221 million per year,
Overall, Senate Bill 1947 will lead to Chicago Public Schools increasing revenues by approximately $450 million dollars.
The bill includes a controversial plan to allocate $75 million dollars towards a Republican-backed tax credit that will fund private school scholarships, a move that has garnered criticism due to the state tax breaks it gives to those who donate to private school scholarships — tax breaks offered at a rate of 75 cents on the dollar. This means that, for example, an individual who donates $1000 to a private school scholarship will have $750 removed from their state taxes.
The scholarships that would be funded by this program are only available to families making up to 300% of the poverty level, or $73,000 for a family of four, and rewards per student will decrease as their family’s income increases. This program will assist about 6,000 students per year and has been written to exist for five years.
Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos, a longstanding supporter of school vouchers, has sought to use public funds to send a handful of students to private and parochial schools, rather than allocating these same funds toward the improvement of public schools that serve all students. Supporters of these programs, such as Secretary DeVos, claim that they allow “exceptional” students to escape the failing public school system and access excellent education that is frequently reserved for the wealthy.
Supporters of the private school tax credit, such as Illinois Policy Employee Rob Brutvan ‘17, argue that this program expands students’ options: “I see no reason to deny a student access to the student access to the highest level of education available, regardless if the high quality education is public, charter, private, or parochial.”
Additionally, Brutvan said, “All [the program] does is give low income kids an opportunity to attend a better school that they otherwise may not have been able to afford.”
Mr. Menacho said, “Why do we need them?” when asked about school vouchers, adding that low-income communities are not well-served when students are removed from the community.
This bill attempts to rectify Illinois’ longstanding problem concerning inequitable school funding, which has been frequently rated as the nation’s worst, according to The Education Trust and National Public Radio.
The funding allocated to CPS will hopefully begin to address complications with teacher pension funding, an issue that has led to repeated clashes between the Chicago Teacher’s Union and the City of Chicago in recent years.
Looking forward, the effects of legislating a flagship private “tuition tax credit” program could signal a major shift in state policy, proving to be harmful to Illinois public education funding for years to come.