The Public Square

Peggy Patten on reforming public funding of our public schools:


My name is Peggy Patten. I have worked in the professional field of early care and education for the past 30 years. I am a parent of three children who attend (or have attended) Urbana Public Schools and have volunteered many hours in Urbana's elementary and middle school classrooms.

In my work in the early education field, I read many reports about trends in education. One alarming trend is the decline in support for public education over the years. Each year our schools are asked to do more with less and then criticized for not performing miracles. What I find most troubling, is the disparity in funding between poor and wealthy school districts in Illinois. According to many national reports, our state has the most inequitable school funding system in the country. These inequities are a result of our state's reliance on property taxes to fund public education. Per pupil spending is as high as $18,000 in property-rich districts in Illinois and lower than $5,000 per pupil in property-poor districts, a rate far below the minimum amount recommended by the state's Education Funding Advisory Board.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have crafted legislation to reform the way we finance public education in Illinois. The legislation would raise income taxes from 3% to 5% (a rate that would place Illinois' tax rate near the median nationally), and lower property taxes which currently support a disproportionate share of the cost of educating students in Illinois. In addition, the school reform measure would provide a tax credit to low and middle income families. As a result of the tax swaps included in this legislation, most taxpayers in Illinois would see reductions in their total taxes.

We may not be able to alter the misdirected education goals of the No Child Left Behind legislation, a federal law which mandates additional standardized testing and penalizes schools whose students' scores do not improve, and a worthy topic for another Public Square Commentary; however, we can greatly influence the quality of education Illinois children receive by supporting the school finance reform measure that will be brought before the Illinois General Assembly this spring.

I encourage listeners to contact their representatives in Springfield to tell them it is time to reform the way we finance public education in Illinois. It is the right thing to do for our children, for our businesses, and for our communities.