Last month, the Tribune's Bob Secter wrote a helpful piece laying out the basic facts about Illinois' gigantic budget deficit. Today, he delivers again, providing a solid overview of the unsustainable and unequal manner in which the state funds K-12 education.
The basic facts, which we've written about plenty, are pretty simple. The state legislature has never provided enough funding for education, a problem that's gotten worse this decade. In 2008, the state's share of school funding dropped to 27.5 percent, down from 33 percent 18 years prior. That's shifted the burden onto localities, who solicit property taxes to pay for books, teachers, and other essentials. But all property tax bills aren't created equal. Rich districts with huge houses and thriving businesses can raise more money through property taxes while keeping the tax rate in those districts modest. Poor districts with low property values need to charge much higher rates if they have any hope of keeping pace. "Per-pupil spending tends to follow the old real estate maxim," writes Secter, "location, location, location."
Illinois' funding structure will continue to haunt the state unless changes are made. HB 174, which passed the Senate and which Secter references only in passing, would double the property tax credit and funnel extra revenue generated from an income tax hike towards schools, at least once the state's backlog of bills is paid off. It's a workable solution to the funding crisis and one key aspect of the tax reform debate that's too often ignored, even by proponents.