2/16/2005 4:03:00 PM Editorial How about some courage?
Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the “reform” governor, once again had a chance in his budget message Wednesday to be a real reformer and lead the way in fixing the way Illinois schools are funded.
But once again, the governor has used sleight of hand to fund a proposed $140 million increase in education spending — dipping into surpluses from nearly 400 unrelated state funds to come up with the money. And once again, he has managed to avoid facing the real problem and proposing a real solution.
To be fair, the political cowardice is bipartisan; Blagojevich’s predecessor Gov. George Ryan did little to advance the cause of school-funding reform. And the General Assembly hasn’t come close to a consensus on real reform since Senate President James “Pate” Phillip barely managed to stonewall Gov. Jim Edgar’s attempt at a solution. There’s plenty of blame to go around.
So, while the politicians keep busy at getting re-elected, the tragedy remains: Illinois ranks 48th of the 50 states in education funding, and is 49th in providing for equitably funded schools. According to the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition, the gap now ranges from less than $4,300 per pupil spent in the poorest districts to more than $18,000 per pupil in the state’s wealthiest school districts. And all of this is happening while the federal No Child Left Behind law leaves children behind right and left, as schools struggle to meet the standards while their resources to do so vanish.
Money is not a panacea for improving schools, we are told. And that’s correct. But Illinois is starving its schools and abusing its children by refusing to deal with these gross inequities.
Proposals abound; moving away — in some manner — from reliance on the property tax to fund schools is still the best plan on the table. But because reducing one kind of tax means raising another kind of tax, these plans strike fear into the hearts of legislators, even if they can be shown to be revenue-neutral, or nearly so.
The problem remains; the solutions are there. All that’s missing is a little courage.