Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

March 23, 2013

Who really gets a 'free lunch'?

(Continued)

Amazingly, there has never been any public debate over this shift in priorities. In fact, it has occurred out of sight of legislators and the public. Bureaucratic decision makers have quietly made changes in how state funding is allocated. The changes have reduced the state’s base Foundation Level grants from almost 90 percent of the state aid formula to just over 50 percent today.

At the same time, Poverty Grant funding has soared by 432 percent and the obscure Property Tax Extension Limitation Law adjustment has shot up a jaw-dropping 1,267 percent.

The deeper one digs into the figures, the worse it becomes. PTELL, intended as a modest adjustment to offset some of the effects of property tax caps, has grown into a $629 million program that channels 49 percent of its money into one school district — Chicago.

Changes that were never approved or even debated by the legislature have skewed the poverty grant formula to create huge discrepancies in the value placed on children in poverty.

I understand that children in poverty require extra resources to reach their potential. As a teacher, I saw it firsthand. And, I also know that schools with high concentrations of poverty students face additional challenges.

But, is it really fair that Mt. Vernon Township High School District 201 receives about $1,300 to educate a student in poverty, while the Chicago schools get more than $2,500 for a student in similar circumstances? Is it really half as costly to educate a poor student in Mt. Vernon as a student in Chicago?

I have only scratched the surface. Similar discrepancies exist in Special Education funding, with Early Childhood funding and even with the distribution of Personal Property Replacement Taxes.

We began this examination in the hopes of refuting a false claim about the downstate “free lunch.” But, in doing so, we uncovered a far more troubling situation.

We cannot build a base of support for public education with an “equalization formula” that is taking Illinois down a path of increasingly unequal treatment of our students.

The facts make it clear. Illinois needs an open, honest and thorough debate over how education resources are allocated.

A link to the report is at www.senategop.state.il.us/Portals/0/Docs/Cost-Shift-FINAL.pdf

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