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Delegates push for school funding, tax reforms

Illinois school board members voted Nov. 20, 2004, to support adequate school funding and a major overhaul of the state's school funding system on grounds that the current system is outdated and provides inadequate financial support for most school districts.

A group of more than 330 Illinois school board members overwhelmingly approved a plan that calls for $1.8 billion in new revenue to increase the foundation level for school funding by more than $1,000 per child. The plan also calls for $2.4 billion in property tax relief for taxpayers, plus various state tax reforms. Specifically, board members agreed to back the general concepts identified in a legislative outline regarding H.B. 750 prepared by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability in June 2004.

Funding reform is clearly needed because "eighty percent of Illinois school districts are in deficit spending mode," said Jolynn Patterson, a member of the Morris District 54 Board of Education. "This is a 'bring the bottom school districts up' funding plan, not a 'bring the top districts down' plan."

While rejecting language to support a specific bill, H.B. 750, board members voted to demand that the state "guarantee the payment of property tax relief grants ... in a timely fashion with no loss of funds to the school district," and with "continued access to local property tax revenues."

The plan board members endorsed also stipulates that funding reforms must meet the criteria outlined in an IASB position statement adopted in 1990, and last updated in 1998, that calls for the state to provide a stable, reliable and predictable commitment of school revenue.

School funding reform was one of 13 new resolutions discussed at the year's largest conference of school leaders, Nov. 19-21 in Chicago. The resolution was approved in the Delegate Assembly of the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) during the Association's 72nd Joint Annual Conference. The event is held in conjunction with those of the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA), and Illinois Association of School Business Officials (IASBO).

Local school board delegates also directed IASB to:

  • Establish a four-year time limit on the use of tax caps, starting from the time they are approved by voters, thus "offering a light at the end of the financial tunnel for school districts." The "sunset" expiration date also would apply to the enactment of future tax caps adopted after the plan becomes law. Any desire to extend caps beyond the four-year limit would require new approval by voters in the next general election. "We find value in re-evaluation," explained Michael Joseph, a board member in East Peoria CHSD 309, the district that sponsored the resolution.
  • Promote a study of aligning local, state and federal regulations, mandates and funding for bilingual education. Currently state, local and federal components for English language learners are not aligned "with respect to program definitions, program requirements and assessment requirements," according to a rationale submitted by the resolution's sponsor, Warren Township High School District 121.
  • Support legislation guaranteeing that the graduates of Illinois public high schools who pass Advance Placement exams be given college credit by all Illinois public colleges and universities. Sponsors at Indian Prairie C.U. District 204, Naperville, said college credit is an important motivator for students taking Advance Placement coursework, allowing them to avoid re-taking the same material in college.

In other Delegate Assembly voting, school board representatives reaffirmed an existing resolution directing IASB to urge state leaders "to implement the constitutional requirement that the state have primary responsibility for financing" public schools. The resolution urges schools to push for legislation requiring the state to pay most of the cost of funding educational reform. Submitted by McLean County C.U. District 5, Normal, it also asks lawmakers to adjust the state aid formula to offset increased inflationary costs.

The rationale for this resolution, which passed without debate, maintains that lawmakers and local school boards "have a moral and legal obligation to provide all students with the educational opportunities they need to succeed. Illinois is one of the wealthiest states in the nation and ranks 49th in state support of K-12 public education. Our current funding system, based in large part on property taxes, creates . . . inequities in education quality for children across our state."

The delegates also voted to amend an existing IASB position statement on the use of "impact fees" collected from builders and sub-dividers of new residences as soon as they become occupied. Specifically, the position was amended to allow cash payments of impact fees to be used for school operational expenses, a recognition that such school expenses rise immediately in response to enrollment increases.

One other existing position statement was amended with a minor update in wording. It calls for IASB to support legislation exempting public schools from all taxation, arguing that "taxing taxed dollars is unconstitutional," while noting "schools are funded with taxed dollars."

IASB Delegate Assembly voting also included election of the following IASB officers for the coming year:

Raymond Zimmerman was elected to a second one-year term as President of the Illinois Association of School Boards. He is a member of the Board of Education of Flanagan C.U. District 4 in Livingston County. A former teacher, he was first elected to the Flanagan school board in 1988. He has served on the IASB Executive Committee since 1999, and has been Director of the Association's Corn Belt Division since 1995. Before being elected president of IASB he served two terms as vice president.

Marie Slater was elected to another one-year term as vice president of IASB. She is a member of the Wheaton-Warrenville District 200 Board of Education, and has served on that school board since 1986. She has been a member of the IASB Board of Directors since 1994.

The Illinois Association of School Boards is a voluntary, not-for-profit organization dedicated to training and advocating on behalf of local school boards. Its mission is excellence in local school governance and support of education.



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