Lawsuit outlines the basics of Illinois school funding problems

Apr 20, 2017

For many years, there’s been consensus in Springfield that the Illinois school funding formula is unfair to students in low-income areas and needs an overhaul.

Illinois has become infamous for a system in which local property taxes are the dominant source of funding for local school districts, allowing schools in wealthy areas to thrive while those in low-income areas struggle.

This sad truth is that in Illinois, a child’s zip code is likely to be greatest determinant of the quality of education he or she will receive. But efforts to fix the system inevitably have collapsed under the weight of regional divisions in Illinois, with wealthier districts — located primarily in the Chicago suburbs — resenting efforts to take state money away of them. Their residents already pay extremely high property taxes in addition to state income tax.

This year there’s been a major effort at the Capitol to design a new funding formula in which school districts receive state aid based on what it will cost for those districts to help their students meet state-mandated benchmarks for academic achievement. Currently, the state assigns a single price tag — the $6,119 “foundation” level — to all students in the state.

On this week’s “Only in Illinois,” we look at a lawsuit filed against the state by 17 downstate school districts who say the current system violates the Illinois Constitution’s requirement that all students receive a “high quality” public education. The suit reads like a primer on all that is wrong with the current funding formula and all that a special commission on education sought to address during many meetings over the past year.



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