Daily Herald Takes on School Finance

Last Sunday, the Daily Herald published the first of a series on school finance. It does not seem to be a “we need more money for education” series.

The first article, for instance, by Emily Kron, has the graph you see here. It compares a percentage 24% increase in inflation over the last ten years to the 52% increase in per pupil revenue. I assume there is another article today.

So, school spending has increased more than twice the increase in inflation.

That is a stunning difference.

Of course, if schools were not spending enough ten years ago, then it might be appropriate.

Here are the total dollar comparison details for each county. As usual, images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

The tone of the article reminded me of the answer I gave to a Chicago Tribune candidate questionnaire in 1996. I knew I wasn’t going to get the Tribune editorial endorsement. I don’t think I ever did in a primary election in which I had an opponent. And McHenry County Republican Party Chairman Al Jourdan had convinced McHenry County Board member John Brehmer to run against me (without even discussing any problems he had with my representation).

The Tribune’s questionnaire was a blatant attempt to get state legislators to say they would vote for an income tax increase, which I, of course, opposed.

I thought you might find my logic of interest.

Tribune Questionnaire for 1996 Primary Election Legislative Candidates

1. State support for elementary and secondary education has declined by 25% in the last 20 years when adjusted for inflation, according to the State Board of Education. Please give us your thoughts on education funding. Does money make a difference in the quality of education? Would you support an increase in the state income tax for schools? Should Illinois reduce its reliance on property taxes and, if so, how should that be accomplished?

State support for education is only part of the measure of public support for education.

As you can see from the enclosed “Report Card on American Education 1994” from the American Legislative Exchange Council, Illinois ranks about midway among the states as far as public school spending per pupil goes.

Also not mentioned in your premise is that enrollment has decreased 14% in the last 20 years.

In the 76-77 school year, the average amount spent on a per pupil basis was $1,637. Multiplying the 2.389 inflation factor since then (source: Legislative Research Unit) by that figure, per pupil spending would be $3,912 in the 1995-96 school year, assuming financial resources merely kept up with inflation. Instead State Board of Education statistics indicate 95-96 expenditures per pupil from all sources to be $5,491. (See draft Table 2 & 5 from State Board of Education.)

As to whether money makes a difference, I found the enclosed report of a study the day I opened your questionnaire. In Indianapolis, money did not make a difference. In fact, the private schools outranked the public schools, even though the privates spent only $2100 per pupil, a little more than half of what the public schools spent. Obviously, Chicago’s school system’s having more money than the average Illinois school has not made any visible difference.

I shall not support an increase in the State income tax. In fact, I believe it is time to cut it by doubling the personal exemption that was set at $1000 in 1969.

Your final question about reducing the property tax burden for schools was what (led to) enactment of the state income tax was supposed to have done in 1969. I remember candidate Ogilvie’s speech to that effect.

It did not work.

Neither did increasing the state income tax by 20% earlier this decade.

If a shift is desired by local property taxpayers, I am willing to support creation of a local income tax, but only if approved by local referendum and only if the entire proceeds of the local income tax are used to reduce the property tax on residential housing.

Of course, I didn’t expect an endorsement. In fact, I can’t remember an endorsement from the Chicago Tribune. It’s first name is “Chicago” after all and I was an outspoken defender of suburban interests.

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