‘Compromise’ Bill Will Not Bring Equity to K-12 Education

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A guest column by Sue Rezin (R-Morris) appearing in The Times on July 14 suggested that Senate Bill 1124—an alternative to SB 1, the education funding bill which has already passed both chambers—would offer a more equitable solution to the K-12 funding problem in Illinois. This is not the case

Senator Rezin aimed to convince readers with cherry-picked numbers and divisive rhetoric. She stated that under SB 1, 70% of new funding would go to CPS to fund “special deals hidden in the formula” to fix the CPS pension system or “pay off” its debt. Under SB 1124, on the other hand, Ottawa, Streator, and LaSalle-Peru schools would “fare better” and get “more funding.” The new bill offers a “compromise,” according to Rezin, which sounds nice on the surface but isn’t true if you look at the details.

To get the details, I urge readers to download a report released by the nonpartisan Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, “Senate Bill 1124—An Inequitable Alternative to SB 1,” which explains how SB 1 fixes historic inequities in both per-student funding and the state’s pension system.

In general, though, the Senator’s column seems to ignore the basic principle informing ‘adequacy targets’ in school funding, namely that some districts would get more and some less (but no cuts) in order to level the playing field. At the core of her argument is a common misunderstanding of the word ‘equity,’ which does not mean “equal” or “same for everyone.” Rather equity is about fairness and balance, which in the context of state funding sometimes means re-balancing allocations so that all students—urban, suburban, and rural—get a fair start regardless of where they happen to be born.

The Senator’s inflammatory “bailout” rhetoric not only misrepresents the realities of statewide funding (Chicago is a city in the state of Illinois, let’s not forget), it also inspires the worst kind of factionalism, playing one region against another, pitting “our schools,” in Rezin’s words, against theirs. This is a typical Republican divide-and-conquer strategy, and it’s not good for our state or our country.

In a democracy, it’s wrong to balkanize the state for cheap political gain. In a democracy, we stick together and believe in equity, and as it stands, SB 1 is the more equitable alternative.