Senate Week in Review
Education continues to be the focus of attention at the Capitol. The latest development is a plan, approved by the Senate, to change the state’s funding formula for elementary and high schools. This proposal, like similar recent proposals over the past year, is an unbalanced approach to funding.
Some downstate schools will gain funding under Senate Bill 231, but others will lose. As a region, downstate schools will see nearly $29 million less. 247 schools gain funding, but 323 schools lose funding. Under the formula change, Chicago public schools will get the lion’s share of taxpayer dollars. And, it comes at the expense of other schools around the state.
The current funding commitment is already out of balance. Here are figures from the Illinois State Board of Education on per student spending:
Averag e Operating Expense per Student (2014-2015 data*)
North Cook County
West Cook County
South Cook County
*Illinois State Board of Education
Downstate is, and will still be under Senate Bill 231, at a disadvantage. Additionally, under Senate Bill 231 those school districts who successfully passed a referendum find themselves penalized. The property owners who live within these districts, like O’Fallon, who said we are willing to pay more to educate our kids, get fewer dollars from the state.
“Show Me the Money”
However, the bigger issue for me and a question we all should ask is, do we have the money to pay for this formula change and the promises it makes? Regardless of the education formula, whether it’s Senate Bill 231, the current formula or a plan by the Governor, the price tag for elementary and secondary education is about $6.5 billion. The question is, can government keep its promise?
Frankly, there is a shortage of confidence at the Capitol about how Illinois will fairly and equitably fund public education. An example of the uncertainty that exists is the sketchy idea behind a funding proposal for higher education during the previous week. The Senate passed legislation that lets the state out of paying a debt it owes to itself. That’s correct. The state “borrowed” money from dozens of special state funds to balance the last state budget. The Senate’s action was to pass a measure that forgives itself of paying back that money. Then, the Senate decided to use the money it didn’t have to pay back to fund higher education. By the way, Illinois doesn’t have the money. That’s why the Senate voted to forgive the debt. Confusing? You bet. Illogical? Yes. We can claim we care for kids and that we want to provide more money for education, but if we can’t pay for it, sincerity rings hollow.
Senate Bill 231 now moves to the House for consideration. The outcome is uncertain at best. In fact, prior to the Senate action on Tuesday, May 10, downstate Democrat legislators and school superintendents held a Capitol press conference. They advocated for sticking with the current education funding formula and fully funding it for the first time in seven years.
End the Burden of Education Mandates
One aspect of education funding that gets little attention at the Capitol are the mandates state government places on our schools. Over the years, Illinois has imposed hundreds of mandates that increase operating costs and puts pressure on funding from local property taxes and the current faulty state funding formula.
I introduced proposals for mandate relief that would enable our schools to better manage the resources they currently have, protect important programs and continue to provide a quality education for our children. Mandate relief would provide immediate help for local school officials to better manage their budgets without asking for more money from local homeowners and without short-changing one district for the benefit of another district under a new funding formula. Unfortunately, politics helped to bury the bills resulting in no action to date.
Technology On Display
We have some wonderful schools and educators in Illinois, and very bright students from around the state who came to the Capitol May 10 for Tech 2016. It’s an annual display of technology in the classroom, with exhibits and demonstrations by students showing how technology is improving education.
From the 54th Senate District, there were two student groups from Wesclin Senior High School in Trenton and a group of students from St. Rose Elementary School in Breese.
Pictured: Teacher Lesley Taylor and students, Ryan Mugele and Izzy Kitterman. Wesclin Sr. High School: “Blogs in the Classroom” – demonstrates how the students and teachers access, process, publish and promote information for career and college readiness activities.
Pictured: Teacher Brad Burcham and students, Ian Elliott and JD Lilley. Wesclin Sr. High School: “3D House” –
This activity allows students to transform two-dimensional house drawings into a real-life 3D house. Multiple levels of math are part of this project. Technology transforms the drawings and allows students to take a virtual tour of the house before it’s built.
Pictured: Teacher Sheri Steward and students, Samantha Faust, Riley Fisher, Abbi Kampwerth and Dee Boeing. St. Rose Elementary School: “Music Videos” – Using innovative technology, seventh grade music students worked together in groups to create their own music videos. They are responsible for writing, directing, presenting and critiquing their own work in comparison to other videos.
“Whether or not you reach your goals in life depends entirely on how well you prepare for them and how badly you want them…You’re eagles! Stretch your wings and fly to the sky!” – Dr. Ronald E. McNair – NASA astronaut and physicist. (1950 – 1986) McNair lost his life on January 28, 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded after launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.