There was both good news and bad news on the education front yesterday. While Illinois students’ scores on ACT college entrance exam inched upward this year -- to the highest level since the state began requiring the test -- the gap between black and white high ...
There was both good news and bad news on the education front yesterday. While Illinois students’ scores on ACT college entrance exam inched upward this year -- to the highest level since the state began requiring the test -- the gap between black and white high schoolers’ scores grew steadily as well:
An improvement in white students’ performances mostly fueled the gains in the 2008 scores, and the disparity between black and white students’ scores continued to widen, the report said. White students who graduated this spring scored 5.2 points higher on average than their peer black students. That’s up from a low spread of 4.5 points in 2003. [...]
“We know high schools are struggling with that issue,” [State School Superintendent Christopher Koch] said, adding that Illinois is working on it by requiring summer school and pre-testing before some students enter high school.
The report is perfect fodder for the education reform debate fermenting in Illinois. Critics like State Sen. James Meeks have lamented our state's reliance on local property taxes to fund education -- a system that creates a disparity between the funds available to property-poor school districts and wealthy ones. In a recent column here at Progress Illinois, Illinois state rep candidate Will Burns pointed to Michigan's 1994 education funding overhaul as evidence that a centralization of funding (the Wolverine State pays 57.3 percent of the total education costs) can save taxpayers money and improve education equity.
Is Michigan's plan perfect? Not in the least. On his Daily Herald blog yesterday, John Patterson reprinted his own 2005 story pointing out some of the reforms' shortfalls.
Ten years after Michigan embarked on the nation's most dramatic education funding swap, its state budget is awash in red ink and, as a result, schools there have been forced to close buildings, end programs, and cut staff. [...]
"The problem with this method of funding is it's dependent on sales tax and sin taxes and income tax, all of which become very unstable when the economy is down and that's what's happened in Michigan," said Shirley Bryant, spokeswoman for Birmingham Public Schools, a suburban Detroit district annually ranked among the state's best. As state funds have come up short, the district closed buildings and is considering cutting the programs it offers students. "All the districts in Michigan are drowning," Bryant said.
An analysis from earlier this year bears out Patterson's predictions: the annual school aid budget gap in Michigan could reach $3.9 billion by 2017 because tax revenues won't be able to keep up with spending pressures.
But rather than simply discard Michigan's plan, let's take a look at some specifics. While things aren't too rosy economically in Illinois, our situation isn't nearly as bad as in Michigan -- one of only two states to lose population in 2007 and home to the nation's highest unemployment rate. Moreover, there are ways to dampen the effect of an economic downturn on school funding. For instance, provisions in the plan proposed by Center for Tax and Budget Accountabiliy executive director Ralph Martire are aimed at preserving stability. From Patterson's piece:
Martire believes his version is far more stable, largely because it keeps property taxes in the mix. But also because the state tax increases would be far broader.
To begin with, the state would pay 25 percent of the local property tax bill that goes to schools.
On the flip side, the state personal income tax would raise to 5 percent from 3 percent. That's a 67 percent increase. The corporate income tax goes up too. And you'd pay sales tax on car repairs and other services. For instance, now when someone gets a muffler fixed, they pay tax on the muffler, but not on the labor.
That last provision is key, said Martire. Because even in slow economic times people still get cars fixed and pay for other services. So the plan is far more sustainable, he argued. Just extending the sales tax to such services would bring in $1.5 billion a year.
In addition, the proposal asks lawmakers to grant education funding special protection in the budget, ensuring that dollars for schools are doled out no matter what. It would mean that in tough budget times schools automatically get their state dollars while cuts occur elsewhere or taxes increase.
Of course, these are the types of proposals suburban Republicans like Rep. Peter Roskam (a one-time state Senator from Wheaton) have repeatedly rejected since at least 1997. In fact, as Patterson reminds us, Roskam spent $40,000 on radio commercials rallying opposition to such reforms on the basis that suburban residents would "see nothing but tax increases ... in this trade." Educational equality be damned.
Unfortunately, while yesterday's special session was intended to address education funding, the House adjourned after only 21 minutes. Let's hope they force the issue when they meet again this fall.