Sunday, January 28, 2007

Tribune joins the push for a 5% (or so) income tax for smarter schools statewide

Today the Tribune's editorial board starts calling for a 5% (or so) state income tax to invest a good chunk of the 2 or 3 billion in new revenue into K-12 education.

One particularly nice part of the editorial is the call for voters and legislators to consider the investment in the entire state, and not just how they would come out under any change.

There is a corrosive habit of citizens, and their politicians, to weight only what a different funding scheme would mean for their communities.

Illinois needs to outgrow this penchant for school financing that can't look beyond economic self-interest. There are plenty of reasons for Effingham taxpayers to care about Hinsdale school children, for Hinsdale taxpayers to care about Harvey school children, for Harvey taxpayers to care about Effingham students. We've just never acknowledged as a state that the future economic health, workforce and leadership of Illinois depend on better educating all of our children. And yes, all children can learn.
This echoes of Obama. I recall one of the themes of his Senate campaign: "When a grandmother on the South Side has to choose between her food and her medicine, I am poorer for it. When a child can't breathe at night because of asthma, I am sicker for it. It is the belief that I am my brother's keeper."

This is a welcome change, as the last time a shift towards statewide funding of education got some traction (SB 755 was voted out of committee in 2006), the Trib ran a front-page story detailing exactly how each school district would make out, comparing the income tax increases the taxpayers would pay (while not noting the federal offset) versus the likely increase in school district revenues. That was a particularly chilly day at the Statehouse and the Trib's hostility was one reason no other Senate Republicans jumped on board the bill. Hopefully the editorial board will sway the news editors a bit this time.

Leadership in 2007 on investing in education is going to be far more decentralized than in previous years. The Governor has boxed himself out of much discussion of the income tax hike that's necessary for statewide funding for education with his needless campaign pledge not to raise the income or sales tax. President Jones has shown every indication that he intends the Senate to take the lead on crafting a smart solution, even prominently quoting the state constitutional provision that reads "The State shall have the primary responsibility in funding education" in his inaugural program. House Democrats were the last chamber that voted for an income tax increase for education, not to mention the almost dozen House Republicans who voted for the income tax increase in the last 90s without one losing a re-election contest on the issue.

And ultimately, the will for an income tax increase for smarter education will come (or not) from us: citizens who tell our legislators that, if they can hire excellent teachers for Illinois kids, we're willing to pay a 5% (or so) income tax.

Cross-posted at DJWinfo


Anonymous,  6:26 AM  

I think this is a great idea.

I hope we get free universal health care out of a state tax increase too. It's the moral thing.

And help for our crumbling infrastructure, especially helping to bail out the CTA's pensions mess. And Cook County's financial troubles, also.

Thank you.

Bill Baar 7:23 AM  

"When a grandmother on the South Side has to choose between her food and her medicine, I am poorer for it. When a child can't breathe at night because of asthma, I am sicker for it. It is the belief that I am my brother's keeper."

But will Obama trust Grandma to pick her own schools with vouchers (Elgin's Madrassa fine choice in my book), or manage her own Medical Savings account, or own her own Social Security account...

...if he can't trust grandma to make those decisions, with her own funds...maybe he should chuck the grandma frame and admit he doesn't trust the people. Otherwise it's an insult to grandmas.

Pat Hickey 7:57 AM  

How about this - instead of a 5% Income Tax Hike for 'Smarter School,'

Let's take 100% Vouchers for Illinois Tax Payers to Choose where those smarter schools could make their kids smarter - then Illinois schools will get smarter and competitive and waste fewer tax dollars.

Think of the Children! Won't somebody think of the Children? Sorry, couldn't resist.

JB Powers 9:46 AM  

Disturbing editorial, does anyone actually think that the same people that do not fund Teachers Pension Plans should be given more responsibilty for education finance.

A friend of mine that does recruiting for University faculty mentioned that good Professors want to leave the Illinois' public universities (or not go there to begin with) because it is obvious that the pension system is broken, and not being fixed.

So to fix education? Give more money to politicians. Terrible idea.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger 12:46 PM  

Either you are for local funding of schools which means you are for poor areas having poor-quality schools with poorer-quality teachers and rich areas having high-quality schools with higher-quality teachers, or you are for more state funding of schools, which means you for poorer schools having better quality teachers and schools. If you want to improve the method or efficacy of spending state money on education, that's great. But local funding of schools means that poor areas will not have much money for schools, and that means the kids from that area are screwed, whether you use vouchers or Education Savings Accounts or whatever new idea the libertarians come up with.

Bill Baar 3:06 PM  

Dan, there is nothing local about giving families vouchers they can use anywhere. Giving every kid vouchers for the same amount accross Illinois and redeemable anywhere in the state (or the world for that matter) seems the opposite of local. It's universal.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger 10:46 PM  

Bill, your plan would require a state income tax increase. School districts in poor areas only spend around $5,000 per child. Wealthy areas spend triple that. So, if you think each child should get a voucher that is redeemable anywhere, it couldn't be only $5,000. It would have to be closer to the higher end of per pupil spending than the lower end. And to get the per pupil voucher up to the higher end (around 10K or so), we'd need new state revenue. That's my point -- if you want anything close to equality in education, that means you want state funding, not local funding, as local funding creates severe inequality. And would you cap how much each pupil would receive? That's a far more radical proposition than a 5% income tax and putting most of the extra revenue into poorer schools to improve school quality.

Yellow Dog Democrat 11:43 AM  

A voucher system in Illinois would quickly collapse. Unless we do something to improve teacher recruitment, training, and retention, reduce class sizes and improve facilities, and ensure adequate textbooks and computers, one million kids will be attending school in Wheaton and Naperville.

Also, voucher programs do nothing to help improve education in rural Illinois, where I grew up and my godmother teaches.

Some quick facts on vouchers around the nation:

- Private schools participating in Milwaukee's voucher program do not administer or report state achievement tests. The only independent study of the program, by UW-Madison, found no difference in the reading and math performance between voucher students ad their traditional school peers. The program costs nearly $100 million and only benefits 15,000 students --- that's no bang for alot of buck.

- A study of Cleveland's voucher program by Indiana University found no difference in overall achievement between private school voucher students and a control group of public school students. In fact, even though the kindergartners in the private school voucher program tested ahead of their public school peers, by the end of 1st grade, public school students had closed the achievement gap.

- In Washington, D.C., so few families applied for the voucher program that a statistically meaningful study of it's efficacy could not even be performed.

I have a suggestion for every voucher advocate out there. Put your money -- not my money -- where your mouth is. Nothing...nothing in state law prevents you from setting up a private philanthropic organization, donating your own money and raising more from anti-public education corporations, and providing scholarships,i.e. vouchers, for students to attend the school of their choice. When you are willing to that, you'll have some credibility, but otherwise, I don't think even you believe in the panacea that you're peddling.

Bill Baar 1:30 PM  

Did the first two surveys ask parents anything about their satisfaction with the schools they selected?

As far as creditablity, my wife volunteers reading spanish in the Elgin Public schools. So besides payint our taxes, my family volunteers a little time.

That doesn't make us experts, but it would be interesting to see parent satisfaction in Elgin's public schools compared with parent satisfaction in Elgin's Catholic, Luther, and Madrassa schools.

When you get down to it, this is a power thing and how comfortable one is letting parents make choices, even bad ones maybe if you have issues with Christian or Islamic schools, vs letting parents make bum choices on their kid's education.

I'm willing to defer to the parents. I haven't always thought that way either.

steve schnorf 11:00 PM  

Pearls before swine.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger 12:52 AM  

Bill, I'd like you to address the issue of local versus state taxation. If you want relatively equal sized vouchers (or an adequate capital investment in every kids' education, even while some rich kids get fantastic schools), then local taxation as we do it now won't cut it. We need a statewide tax to pay for that, and that means a higher state tax. Do you agree? The question of parent versus district power is a separate question that goes to the most effective way to buy a good education and is irrelevant to whether we raise state income to finance poor kids' education or let them live with poorer life chances due to a poorer school (or smaller voucher, if you will).

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