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Finance Issue in Education

Sarah Karp(Jan-Feb,2006) writes about the financial problems in the schools of Illinois in an article in The Chicago Reporter. According to her, getting quality education has been a struggle since history for the predominantly black, poor residents of Phoenix. It is an issue to get the state to provide more money for public education and removing the disparity between the richest and poorest school districts. In 2003, Phoenix residents succeeded by means of a referendum to increase property taxes to schools in South Holland District 151 which comprises all of Phoenix, portions of South Holland, Harvey and Dolton.

But still District 151 spends less per pupil than many southwest suburban districts do. And this fact has galvanized Superintendent Doug Hamilton and the District 151 residents towards another issue of getting state minimize the disparity in public education spending between Illinois’ richest and poorest districts. Consequently Hamilton campaigned for a school funding reform bill which failed for various reasons. Districts serving the poor, blacks and Latinos as well as those serving mostly whites and the middle class are all concerned about school funding but in different manners and without any suggested solutions.

The Chicago Reporter takes a keen look into the school funding in Illinois, the effect of disparities in spending on public education and the political determination of reforms in this regard. Sarah Karp(Jan-Feb, 2006) writes:- One fact not in dispute is that some schools in Illinois have much more to spend on educating students than others. The tiny Rondout School District had $23,799 for each of its 125 students in wealthy north suburban Lake Forest. In downstate Washington, near Peoria, Central School District 51 is at the bottom with $4,438 per student.

Prime sources of the inequities are disparities in property values among many school districts in Illinois, which relies heavily on local property taxes to pay for public education. Ultimately, resource-rich districts have resource-rich schools, and districts with low property values have fewer resources. In terms of education equity, Illinois gets a D-plus and ranks 41 out of 49 states, not including Hawaii, according to Education Week, a national education publication. And school districts with high percentages of poor students and racial minorities suffer disproportionately, concluded the Education Trust, a national education think tank.

Chicago Public Schools, with a student body of mostly poor blacks and Latinos, is an example. Mayor Richard M. Daley, Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan, and School Board President Michael Scott all are advocating for the state to contribute more money to schools. The trio contends that the state’s paltry contribution leaves them struggling to provide a quality education for more than 410,000 school children. The state provides nearly 37 percent of Chicago Public Schools’ $4 billion annual budget. The rest comes primarily from property taxes and the federal government.

Not only are the districts with poor children facing financial difficulties but also are those with middle class background children. Ben Martindale, superintendent of Gurnee School District 56, finds the problem with property tax caps imposition according to which local governments cannot increase property tax by more than 5 percent or the rate of inflation in the national Consumer Price Index- whichever is less. And according to Illinois State Board of Education about 52% of the state’s school districts have implemented property tax caps.

Duncan and Martindale agree about over reliance upon the property tax as a problem and others and lawmakers find no way out. Other opinions like the following as Karp(Jan-Feb,2006) mentions, question whether money really is the problem and whether schools are using their available funds properly: State Sen. Steven J. Rauschenberger, an Elgin Republican running for lieutenant governor on Chicago businessman Ron Gidwitz’s gubernatorial ticket, said that, in addition to looking at school funding, the entire education system needs to be examined. He said more money will not necessarily mean that children will get a better education.

“You can’t just pour more money [into schools]. You need to enact reforms and provide for accountability,” he said. “One thing that is abundantly clear from the research is that more school funding does not improve outcomes,” he added. “Those who are talking about increasing school funding are really talking about paying teachers more. That is an easy way out. ” At this Hamilton of District 151 notes that currently his district has an average of 25 students per class instead of the ideal 15-18 with buildings “old and crowded with no air conditioning.

And, some classes are held in “modular units”—temporary classrooms units that resemble fancy mobile homes-to accommodate a steady influx of students” (Karp, Jan-Feb, 2006). The complex problem of District 151 is an example of school funding in Illinois and that steps like increasing property taxes generate new difficulties. Higher tax rates makes the region repel developers and hence hamper business growth as a result of which the district’s tax base is not increasing and residents cannot be relieved from some of the property tax burden.

Local government, hence, to attract business have made industrial and retail areas as tax increment frozen districts, or TIFs in which the increments in the property tax revenue available to District 151 and other taxing bodies are frozen for a period of 23 years and are invested back in the areas infrastructural facilities. TIFs, though indispensable, prevent the district to collect revenue of around $1. 8 million, according to Hamilton. While increasing population seeks more concern, the extra grants provided by state are not sufficient according to school officials.

Simultaneously the money needed for educating poor family background children is two and a half times more than that needed for those from affluent families, contend the experts. Illinois undoubtedly needs more money in education but the question where should that money come from and how it should be distributed among 881 districts has got no clues. In his 2006 State of the State Address, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said that he increased state education funding by $2. 3 billion. This money was at the cost of state’s contribution in the employee pension plan.

Max McGee, former state superintendent and current superintendent of Wilmette School District 39, suggests reallocation of state’s education budget to the neediest of districts. And middle income and wealthy districts should be able to raise taxes to the same percentage as Employment Cost Index instead of Consumer Price Index to solve budgetary problems. A greater attention gaining measure is increase in state’s income tax and relief in the property tax, but the concerned bill gained contradictory opinions. Residents of wealthy district fear they will have more tax burden for lesser benefits.

In a nutshell financial problems really are more than effective in education. And school infrastructure as well as socio-economic condition of the children is dependent upon these financial issues. The community associated with the schools is substantially influenced both by the quality of education that’s being provided to their children and the tax measures taken towards solving budgetary problems in the school district(s). Learning environment is accordingly affected and the children from poorer family backgrounds are needier of attention than those from wealthier ones.

Thus schools with a major proportion of strength from poorer children have to invest more in terms of time and money. Consequently the poor socio-economic conditions of a place require more monetary support in education to improve quality of education and resultantly improved socio-economic conditions. Otherwise vicious cycle of poverty and lack of education continues. References Karp, S. (2006, Jan-Feb). Cashed out: school officials across Illinois want the state to narrow the gap in education funding. But no one knows exactly how to do it. The Chicago Reporter, 35. 1, (Jan-Feb, 2006): p. 16(4). (2729 words) From

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