Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Editorial: School funding problem is spending

This editorial speaks for itself. Bravo to the editorial staff at the Decatur Herald & Review.

Editorial: School funding problem is spending


Decatur Herald & Review

The Illinois General Assembly will argue again next session about how much funding should be budgeted for elementary and secondary schools.

The battle is expected to be a tough one, and in an election year, politicians will have to walk a fine line between pleasing those who don't want higher taxes and those who want more money spent on education on the state.

Some pro-education groups have proposed a tax swap: removing the emphasis for school funding from property taxes and placing more of the burden on income taxes. While that's a basically sound idea, many of the proposals carry with it a not-so-well hidden tax increase.

A+ Illinois, an education funding reform group, says the state needs to increase the foundation level by at least $1.200 per student. The foundation level is the minimum amount spent on each Illinois student, and that now stands at $5,164 per year.

Two other proposals for reforming education funding are locked up in rules committees, where a lot of legislation is shelved and then forgotten.

Much of this debate about funding would be unnecessary, however, if the state would look at the problem from the other end. The problem with education in the state isn't as much funding as it is spending. In other words, there is adequate money for public elementary and secondary education in Illinois, but the money isn't being used properly.

For example, Illinois has 894 school districts serving a little more than 2.1 million students. Texas has more than twice as many students,

4.3 million, served by 1,046 school districts. New York state also serves more students, 2.8 million, with 726 school districts. Imagine what could happen if Illinois reduced the number of school districts by even 50 and targeted those savings directly to the classroom?

Of course, consolidating and eliminating school districts is a difficult process, but the long-term effects on school spending would be well worth the effort for students, educators and taxpayers.

The number of districts is just a symptom of a larger problem. Too many Illinois education dollars are spent long before they directly impact students.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich will be unveiling his vision for elementary and secondary school funding to the General Assembly on Feb. 15. It's expected that the overall state budget will be tight, and schools will be no exception.

The governor could dramatically change the nature of the discussion if he were to announce that the state school system needs to focus on spending the money they have more effectively before asking the taxpayers for additional funding.

No comments: