Carlinville among districts taking state to court
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The Issue: CUSD 1 takes a stand against state’s failure to equitably fund schools.
Our View: If logic and a sense of duty won’t affect change, perhaps the courts will.
It’s not easy to stand by and watch unfairness and inequity take place. Of course, life isn’t fair. We all know that and we’ve all experienced it in our daily lives. Unfortunately, when it comes to education, the vast difference between the haves and the have-nots will surely increase the likelihood that those at the low end of the funding yardstick will find it increasingly difficult to get out of the hole.
Carlinville is one of 17 school districts in downstate Illinois that has filed suit with the state of Illinois, the Illinois State Board of Education and Governor Bruce Rauner in an effort to, not only stop the funding gap from increasing, but to narrow it so the children of these districts have the same opportunities as those in wealthier districts.
Here’s the reality. When comparing 1,466 students in Carlinville, to a wealthier district of similar size, like 1,370 students in River Forest, one sees that the percentage of low-income students in Carlinville is at 43.2 percent, while the same statistic from River Forest is 5.1 percent. In 2015, Carlinville CUSD 1 received $8,091 per student, with $4,669 of that coming from local revenue and $3,422 coming from the state. In the same year in River Forest, the school district received $18,001 per student with $16,914 coming from local revenue and $1,087 from the state. That’s a difference of about $10,000 per student, which is reflected in test scores. In 2011-2012, 89.5 percent of Carlinville students met or exceeded Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) expectations, while 96.2 did so in River Forest. In 2015-16, 43.3 percent of students met or exceeded in Partnership for Assessment of Readiness in College and Careers (PARCC). In River Forest, 69.7 percent of students met or exceeded PARCC expectations.
A few years ago, a parent was distraught when his valedictorian son struggled to compete in his math and engineering courses at the University of Illinois. He was upset that the schools in Macoupin County weren’t providing the kind of instruction students get in other parts of the state and didn’t understand why.
When it was explained to him that local property taxes (his included) would have to increase ten-fold in order to fund the sort of education he wanted for his kids, the reality was sobering.
The value and/or price of real estate in a school district generally reflects what the people living there can afford. Illinois already has the highest property tax rates in the country. To over-simplify the math, but to make a point, let’s say taxes on a $150,000 Macoupin County home are 1 percent, which is $1,500. In a wealthy community, that 1 percent tax rate on a $1.5 million home is $15,000. The inequity doesn’t necessarily reside in the tax rates; the wealth is the difference.
We understand that people with higher incomes can simply afford more and they can spend their money any way they choose. The heart of the issue lies in the Illinois State Constitution that reads, “The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality education.” It doesn’t say high quality unless you’re poor.
While the state says on one hand it wants to increase the quality of education, and proves its point by steadily increasing learning standards, it doesn’t provide the funding through which these higher standards can be achieved. In fact, over the last few years, state funding has decreased.
Even the smallest, poorest school districts within the state have had a significant portion of their funding prorated over the last few years. That’s money they will never get. It’s not out-of-line to say a district similar to Carlinville has lost out on $3 million or more in recent years. The state decided it no longer owes that money. Aside from that, the state continues to run behind on its payments to school districts, resulting in cuts in staff, materials and services.
The state knows what a high quality education is, it just doesn’t do what needs to be done to make sure that sort of education is available for all. The constitutional obligation is not being met.
We support the efforts of the 17 school districts taking a stand against the state and we are proud that seven Macoupin County school districts are among them. It needs to be done. While it’s true that life isn’t always fair, there’s something to be said for taking a stand against that which compromises the future of our schools and our children.