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Education Desk: K-12 Funding Task Force Hears From Winners Who Would Lose Under Proposed Plan

Dusty Rhodes
WUIS/Illinois Issues

lllinois' Education Funding Task Force met yesterday to consider whether to change how the state finances education.

The current system is based on property taxes, so school districts with high land values  -- like those in the suburbs north of Chicago -- want to keep the status quo. 

They say a proposal sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Macoupin County, would divert more state money to districts with lower property values, thereby creating "winners and losers."
Kevin Myers, superintendent of Mundeleine High School District 120, told the task force that his district spends $1.7 million a year for 40 athletic programs, and that a decrease of state funds could affect one of their newest teams -- women's lacrosse. Or, he said, it could impact the class that trains students to repair computers and supports their "Chrome Book initiative."

But David Lett, superintendent of Pana schools, said districts like his can't raise enough money through property taxes to offer the same quality of education as wealthier districts.

"We've been losing. They are now contemplating the possibility of losing under a formula that weights more heavily for poverty. And they're scared of it," Lett said.
The Chicago suburb of Schaumburg -- home of the enormous Woodfield Mall -- is also home to prosperous schools, and Schaumburg superintendent Andrew DuRoss told the task force it wasn't fair to take money from some districts to fund others. 
But after the hearing, Elgin superintendent of schools Tony Sanders said places like Schaumburg take for granted things that his schools can't afford. For example, Schaumburg has a student/teacher ratio of 16 to one.
"We staff our schools at 28 students for every teacher in grades K--2, and 33 kids for every teacher in grades 3-6," Sanders said.

Governor Bruce Rauner plans to increase funding to all schools using the current formula, but Manar says the the system should be made more equitable before pouring more money into it. 

After a long career in newspapers (Dallas Observer, The Dallas Morning News, Anchorage Daily News, Illinois Times), Dusty returned to school to get a master's degree in multimedia journalism. She began work as Education Desk reporter at NPR Illinois in September 2014.