12/21/2005 4:35:00 PM Editorial Con-con for school reform?
Desperate times call for desperate measures: That seems to be the motivation behind the Illinois Association of School Boards’ push for a constitutional convention that would change the way Illinois funds its schools.
Those who say a con-con would remove politics from the equation have a point. The lack of political will has been the main reason nothing has been done up to this point. Since every “tax swap” involves a tax increase, even if there’s little or no net effect legislators are pathologically afraid to have their names linked to higher taxes in any form. And con-con delegates wouldn’t have political futures to worry about.
“We’re not going to solve school funding problems in Illinois unless we put it in the hands of voters,” said Mike Kelly, a member of the Plainfield school board.
And a convention seems appropriate because this political cowardice has led to a clearly unconstitutional situation. The 1970 constitution says the state has “primary responsibility” for funding public education; efforts to set a percentage figure failed, and there have been no teeth behind the statement. Now, about 30 percent of school funding comes from the state — a far cry from “primary.”
The reliance on the property tax ensures that rich suburban districts will always be able to support their schools, and students, better than poor rural districts. And what use is government at all, if not to uphold the “general welfare” and protect those who have the least? The preamble of the 1970 constitution, after all, pledges to “eliminate poverty and inequality,” among other ideals and goals.
There are risks involved in a constitutional convention. It’s not a single-issue event; a con-con attracts every special interest under the sun, trying to get their two cents into a new constitution. And, as happened in 1970, there’s always the chance that school-funding reform will once again get watered down in the process.
It’s an intriguing idea. And since the next chance for Illinois to vote on a con-con is 2008, we have time to think about it. But just the fact that we’re talking about it indicates how bad the school-funding problem has become.