With this year’s budget speech just a day away, details of Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s plans to deal with the state’s financial problems are slowly leaking to the press.
According to reports, the governor will call for a $400 million cut to the K-12 education budget to free up money to pay for the state’s ballooning pension costs and its more than $9 billion backlog of unpaid bills.
Similar to President Barack Obama’s approach to discussing the sequester, the Quinn administration is making these cuts sound like they will bring the education system to its knees. In actuality, it will force the state to spend as much on education this year as it did in 2008.
If Quinn was serious about tackling the issues within Illinois’ education system, he’d take a deeper look into how the state funds education and the outcomes this system has produced.
He’d quickly realize that the state’s single-largest education expenditure – the General State Aid for Education, or GSA, budget – is convoluted and confusing.
He’d see how the state has strayed away from its original goal of helping students in school districts with limited means and is now funneling money to well-connected school districts, many of which have used their political muscle to ensure steady, consistent funding.
Hopefully, he’d recognize that immediate reforms need to be made, especially to the way the state calculates how much funding districts receive.
He’d also notice that the system is not generating results. In fact, only 30 percent of Illinois public high school students are academically ready for college and only 34 percent of schools made Adequate Yearly Progress in 2012.
If Quinn is desperate to save $400 million, I have the perfect place for him to start: support House Bill 3305. This bill, proposed by state Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, ends the subsidy in the education funding formula that is given to districts such as Chicago that overuse tax increment financing, or TIF, zones.
But Quinn has to do more than that.
Quinn should support the creation of a new education funding system that does more than just transfer money to districts. A sound financing system would spur competition, encourage innovation and give parents the freedom and resources they need to ensure that their children can attend a school that works for them.
Such a system will be cheaper too. A recent study found that states with opportunity scholarships save millions of dollars while still maintaining high student achievement.
It’s time to try something different in Illinois. Residents have spent billions upon billions of dollars on the current system and have little to show for it.
It’s about time that they see returns on their investment.Josh Dwyer is Director of Education Reform at the Illinois Policy Institute