Education Desk: Gov's Proposal Will Still Produce Winners, Losers

Mar 14, 2016

Illinois State Board of Education Superintendent Tony Smith (center) testifies before a state senate appropriations committee.
Credit Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois/Illinois Issues

Some Illinois districts spend just above six-thousand dollars per student in a school year, while other districts spend more than five times that amount. The difference is due to the disparity in property values across the state, because schools rely on property taxes for funding.

Legislative efforts to channel more state aid to districts with low property values have failed, because wealthier districts complain about losing state funds. Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed a slight increase in funds for public schools. But state school officials say it won’t help the neediest districts. 

“We have underfunded public schools, and have a fundamentally inequitable funding system. So the system of funding has produced deeply inequitable situations where districts are losing all the time,” says Tony Smith, state superintendent of schools.

The problem, Smith says, is a funding formula based on local wealth, rather than need.

“So I really do resist this idea of, ‘Well is this new one winners and losers?’ As long as the core of the funding structure in Illinois is based on property tax, there will not be a conversation that is not like that," Smith says.

Rauner appointed Smith to this post less than a year ago. At least two state senators have announced plans to file legislation to change the current formula.