Education Desk: School Funding Inequity Means Staplers V. Swimming Pools
The state budget impasse has largely spared public schools, thanks to Governor Bruce Rauner’s decision to fund them for the entire year. But some school districts are still hurting.
Illinois school funding relies heavily on property taxes. That means districts with thriving industries and expensive homes spend as much as $30,000 per student every year, while districts with few businesses and modest homes get by on as little as $7,000 per student. Lawmakers pushing a plan that would change the way Illinois funds public schools say the state has the most inequitable funding formula in the country.
One of those lawmakers is State Representative Sue Scherer, a Democrat from Decatur. Scherer is a former teacher, and says her school lacked textbooks, basic office supplies, and even hot water — conditions teachers don’t face in Chicago’s prosperous northern suburbs.
“Do you think they don’t have a stapler? Do you think they don’t have paper? Do you think they don’t have textbooks? Are you kidding? They argue about how many lanes they’ll put in their new swimming pool," she says. “I remember back in the nineties, when I was teaching third grade. We had stickers on our windows: 'A+ Fair Funding for Schools,' with a little apple. And here we are in the year 2016 and we’re still fighting the same fight.”
The plan, proposed as Senate Bill 1, would shift money from wealthy districts to those with lower property values -- a situation critics say creates “winners and losers.” Backers say there are already winners and losers.