Monday, December 05, 2005

Is it time to rewrite the Constitution?

Teachers often whine how they are underpaid compared to other professionals, yet teachers' unions have plenty of money to throw at our legislators. According to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, the Illinois Education Association (teachers' union) contributed $10.5 million to politicians between 1993 and 2004, more than any other statewide group. Second-place went to the Illinois Medical Society which contributed about 2.6 million less than the IEA. The third top contributor was the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the state's second-largest teachers union.

Now is the time to get tough with our legislators and let them know that we do not want the schools to receive any more money. It is time to force schools to be fiscally responsible and accountable for educating our children. Taxes will rise if the unions get their way with Constitutional Amendments.

Keep this in mind while reading the article below: Better Funding for Better Schools and A+ Illinois receive large sums of funding from the teachers unions and businesses that benefit from increased school funding.

Yes, it is time to rewrite the Constitution. We need to write true school choice into the Constitution. We must also put an end to Illinois' numerous state pension scams that threaten future generations with unsustainable debt.

The article below appeared in the Daily Southtown.

Is it time to rewrite the Constitution?


By Kati Phillips

Daily Southtown

Association of School Boards calling for a constitutional convention in 2008, or sooner

Crack open the Illinois Constitution and add a line that forces the state to spend more money on education.
That's the dramatic measure a school board lobby group wants to take to obtain long-sought-after education funding reform.

At the request of more than 300 of its members, the Illinois Association of School Boards is pushing for a statewide constitutional convention in 2008 or earlier.

At a convention, delegates amend or rewrite the state's guiding document and put it up for public vote.

While this opens the door to any number of special-interest groups promoting amendments on subjects like same-sex marriage or intelligent design, it also creates the climate needed to pass education-funding reform, school board members say.

Convention delegates - unlike legislators - can attempt to raise taxes or make other hard decisions without worrying about caucus loyalty or re-election bids.

Those risks are to blame for Springfield's shrinking political will, most recently displayed when a tax swap bill that offered property tax relief failed to make it to a Senate vote, school board members say.

"Politics gets in the way of true education-funding reform," said Howard Crouse, superintendent of the Naperville district that introduced the convention resolution.

A swing and a miss

The current language on education funding was a result of the 1970 constitutional convention.

Delegates met in Springfield to find a way to get the state to pick up more of the schools' tab.

People were concerned that the state was providing just 31 percent of the money for schools, compared with 64.5 percent from local property taxes.

Districts with corporate headquarters and expensive homes were funding winners. Rural districts and industry-poor suburbs were losers.

Efforts to set a particular percentage for the state to contribute failed, but a line written by delegate Dawn Clark Netsch made it into the document.

The state has the "primary responsibility" for financing the system of public education, it reads.

"It was a club held over the heads of legislators," said Clark Netsch, a former senator and gubernatorial candidate. "The problem is, it hasn't hit hard enough."

Since 1970, lawmakers have only once raised the income tax, the main source for state education funding.

And the Illinois Supreme Court twice has rejected challenges to the state's education finance system, saying reform must be undertaken in the Legislature and not in the courts.

Though state funding reached almost 48 percent in the mid-1970s, it has dropped considerably.

About 30 percent of school funding comes from the state, and 57 percent is generated by local property taxes, according to the 2004-05 state school report card.

Rewrite every 20 years

The question of whether to hold a constitutional convention is put to voters every 20 years. Three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election are needed to convene one.

The last such referendum was in 1988, when voters turned down the opportunity. The next chance will be in 2008, unless lawmakers set an earlier date.

If voters jump at the chance this time around, they get to elect two delegates from each Legislative district to serve at the convention.

The delegates approve amendments or revisions to the constitution, and then those changes are put to a public vote. Majority rules.

Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn said he fought for a convention in 1988 for many of the same reasons the school board association now is promoting one.

He has not taken an official position on the possible 2008 convention, but he agrees it would remove politics from the funding reform discussion.

"The Constitutional Convention may be the only mechanism taxpayers have to force a true debate on reducing the state's excessive reliance on property taxes," Quinn said.

Illinois hasn't always had an education funding system reliant on property-taxes. In the early 1900s, the state paid the entire bill for public schools.

But complaints that the state was skimping led to local property taxes becoming the main funding source.

Today, wide disparities in property values have created a huge gap in what districts spend, ranging anywhere from $4,000 to $24,000 per student.

Though more money doesn't always mean better scores, advocates say cash is key to closing the achievement gap. Many just aren't positive a constitutional convention is the way to go.

Wary of special interests

First off, a convention cannot be held on a single issue, so delegates from all political persuasions would have the opportunity to tweak the constitution, Clark Netsch said.

Abortion, same-sex marriage, prayer in school - name a hot-button issue and there would be a dogfight, school board members concede.

Secondly, there is no guarantee a convention delegate could create wording that actually would force the state to pay up and get wide support.

Instead of promoting a convention, Bindu Batchu, campaign manager of A+ Illinois, is putting her efforts into encouraging candidates for public office to support education funding reform.

The same goes for members of the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition. Even if there is a change in the constitution, it is up to the legislature to enact it, chairwoman Sharon Voliva said. Given the state's history, she is doubtful that would happen.

"The constitutional convention won't give legislators a backbone," she said.


Cal Skinner said...

If one's views are not dominant in the General Assembly, what makes anyone think they would be in a constitutional convention?

mr. matthews said...

you stated: Teachers often whine how they are underpaid compared to other professionals, yet teachers' unions have plenty of money to throw at our legislators." ...

what's the correlation?

teacher's unions get their money from dues that come from members. and that money is used for a variety of activities, including political action. of course the IEA gives a lot - it has a lot to give because of its large membership.

how does that relate to teachers not happy with their compensation?