News Local/State

52nd State Senate Candidates Look at Funding, Evaluating Schools


When it comes to education, the candidates in Illinois’ 52nd Senate District have different ideas about how to fund schools, but find common ground over how to evaluate them.

The candidates in the race are State Sen. Mike Frerichs (D-Champaign) and John Bambenek (R-Champaign)

More than 60 percent of funding for K-12 education in Illinois comes from local dollars; the bulk of that money from property taxes. But Sen. Frerichs said relying on property taxes creates major funding gaps for schools statewide.

“The biggest problem I see with our education system is the huge disparities between wealthier school districts and the poorer school districts,” he said.

Frerichs said all students should have equal access to a quality education, regardless of where they live.

Take for example, Armstrong School District 225, with one high school campus in Vermilion County. According to the Illinois State Board of Education, the school received $825,000 in property taxes last year. In contrast, New Trier Township High School District 203, with two campuses in Cook County, received some $80 million.

“The quality of education you’re likely to receive as a child is radically different depending on what town you’re born into, what street you’re born on, and that’s just unfair,” Frerichs said. “I think it’s a moral problem we need to address.”

Frerichs said there should be a greater emphasis on education funding based on a per-pupil statewide average, and less reliance on property taxes to support schools.

Bambenek believes property taxes are a more stable funding source for education than income or sales taxes. But he would ultimately like to fund schools differently.

“The funding should follow the child,” Bambenek said. “We’re funding a child’s education. We should stop looking at, ‘ok, we need to fund this bureaucracy or that bureaucracy. We should fund a child’s education, and that funding should travel with the child wherever they go, whatever education system – whether that’s charter or so on.”

Bambenek also thinks school administrators make too much money. He said there might be opportunities to trim their salaries to better support education.

Funding education is one thing; assessing it is another.

With the passage of No Child Left Behind during the George W. Bush administration, a greater emphasis on standardized testing developed to evaluate school success.

NCLB seeks to bring every student to a single, national standard by 2014. But Senator Frerichs said student performance on individual tests should not be connected with school funding.

“You see a lot of teaching towards the test,” Frerichs said. “It’s not necessarily concerned with education and expanding children’s minds and their ability to learn and process information, but the ability of children to do very well on this one test because their funding is so reliant on it.”

Bambenek agrees No Child Left Behind has not been effective. But his concern is about the federal government gaining more control over the assessment of teacher-student performance.

“Teaching to the test is a means of accountability,” Bambenek said. “Accountability is a great thing, but accountable to who? Our schools need to be accountable to their local communities and parents.”

That is where these two men agree – they both feel teachers and parents should have a greater say in what goes on in Illinois classrooms.