Tuesday, October 10, 2006

State’s 100 percent solution to education woes is to fund the child

The following piece came to us from our friends at the Illinois Policy Institute.

State’s 100 percent solution to education woes is to fund the child
The State Journal-Register

Published Tuesday, October 10, 2006

On Oct. 14, the Rev. Jesse Jackson will march to protest the deep inequities in an education finance system in Illinois that leaves schools underfunded and children uneducated. I’m going to march with him.

Sen. James Meeks, a compatriot of Jackson’s, has introduced legislation (HB750) to level funding between school districts by coupling a state income tax increase with property tax relief. And Jackson has pledged “to put high quality and equal education funding in the middle of the debate.” He has said, “We want equal access and high quality public education for all of our children – make the playing field even for all of our children.”

Proponents of HB750 believe that the bill will achieve those ends. They’re wrong.

While HB750 makes funding more equitable between school districts, it does not address the terrible imbalances in funding within those districts and within their schools. It is a virtual guarantee that unless HB750 is accompanied by fundamental reforms in education spending, little will come in the way of progress in the classroom - and at great expense.

If passed, HB750 would substantially increase the role of state government in education finance and go a long way toward enabling the state to achieve uniformity in average-per-pupil funding. If amended, however, HB750 could instead enable the state to “Fund the Child.”

This is the title of a new proposal released by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, wherein its authors advocate the “100 Percent Solution” - a dramatic rethinking of public school finance, one that could revolutionize American public education, one that requires each student be educated according to his needs and be allowed to attend the public school in which those needs are best met.

Under the present system of school finance, there are huge disparities between the poorest and most wealthy districts. But even within those districts, the situation is no less dire. Neighborhood schools with a high number of low-income students are often unable to attract and retain high-quality teachers.

There is little or no financial incentive for teachers with even just a few years of experience to remain in troubled schools. They often opt, as soon as possible, to transfer to a school in a more affluent neighborhood with a more comfortable working environment. The funds follow the teacher. Schools in the poorest neighborhoods are left with the least experienced, lowest-paid teachers, and therefore spend far less per pupil than their more affluent counterparts.

Under the 100 percent solution, the funds follow the child. Each student would receive funding according to a weighted formula, and those funds would follow that student to the public school setting of his parents’ choice. Those from more affluent, stable backgrounds - those least at risk of academic failure -would receive a base amount. Those from more adverse backgrounds or those who suffer from disabilities - those who are more expensive to educate - would receive more.

Parents would be allowed to select the most appropriate public school setting for their children. Principals would be afforded the flexibility to best address the needs of the students. The system of public education in Illinois could become “one in which schools compete to hire the best teachers and to attract the hardest-to-educate students, and in which [parents and educators] are free to try new and dynamic solutions to ensure that all of their students succeed.”

HB750 should be amended to require that state government and local school districts “fund the child.” Thus amended, HB750 is one that replaces an antiquated school finance system with one of equality and opportunity. Such an HB750 would deserve the support from all across the state, from both parties, and from Jackson.

Jackson has said of his march for equal education funding, “This is neither left nor right, Democrat nor Republican. It is the moral center.” The same is true of the 100 percent solution, and it, too, is worth marching for.

Collin Hitt is director of Education Policy and Reform at the Springfield-based Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at collin@illinoispolicyinstitute.org.

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