Good Education for All!

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The basic idea behind public schooling—that every child, regardless of background, deserves an equal chance at a good education—was put to the test last month when the Illinois Senate passed SB1, a bill designed to reform the state education funding system in a fair and equitable way.

If SB1 becomes law, each of the state’s 860-plus school districts will be funded in accordance with established “adequacy targets,” or the amount needed to educate every student (estimated at about $15,400 per student, per year). Districts falling short of that target would receive state funding to make up the difference, and the bill promises that no district would see a funding cut.

To me this seems like a good, sensible idea—equalize funding, level the education playing field. And yet some, including State Senator Sue Rezin (R-38), voted against the bill, calling it “a massive bailout for Chicago’s school system at the expense of every other district in the state.”

Rezin’s nay vote is based on the misguided notion that the gain for CPS students would be “far higher” than for other districts in the state. And yet about 270 other districts would “receive higher per-pupil funding increases than CPS,” according to a recent Chicago Tonight feature (Matt Masterson, June 7).

Rezin’s argument also misses the point. As the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission reported last February, school districts with a higher concentration of low-income students currently receive 20% less funding than wealthier districts. Since the goal of SB1 is to close that gap, poorer districts in Chicago and throughout Illinois would obviously receive more funding. Thus SB1 is hardly a “massive bailout” for CPS but rather a fair-minded adjustment to a system that too often leaves low-income kids behind.

In truth, Rezin’s response, shared by the Republican governor, is a yet another attempt to pit rural/suburban (mostly white) districts against low-income urban (mostly black and brown) districts. Gubernatorial candidates Daniel Biss and Ameya Pawar recently called Rauner out for this “racist tactic,” and I’m disappointed that Senator Rezin, as well, would stoop to that level.

SB1 may have enough bipartisan support to override a near certain Rauner veto. If the bill does become law, I hope my fellow Illinoisans will join me in celebrating this small step forward in providing more equal educational opportunities for future generations.