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House Democrats Note Concerns Regarding Aspects of School Funding Report

House Democrats expressed concern over a number of items contained in a report released last week by the panel considering changes to the state’s education funding formula. In a letter to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s appointed secretary of education, House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie and other House Democrats on the commission questioned aspects of the report, some that were not explicitly endorsed by all commission members.

“While this commission did not accomplish all it set out to do, it was encouraging that a bipartisan group of lawmakers could work cooperatively to begin moving forward on a very difficult and complex issue.  However, the final report failed to clarify some key points, and included items that were not agreed upon by all members of the commission,” Currie said. “Given the importance of this issue for families and communities in every corner of the state, these points need to be clarified.”

Currie and Reps. Will Davis, Rita Mayfield and Emily McAsey, who were among the House Democratic Caucus’ representatives on the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission, have delivered a letter to Dr. Beth Purvis, state secretary of education, pointing to aspects of the report that fail to clearly reflect the Commission’s discussions. The report does not properly recognize that Illinois’ current school funding system is broken, in large part, because of overreliance on property taxes and underfunding from the state. Illinois’ property tax dollars account for 67 percent of all education spending, while the nationwide average is 45 percent. Without reform that acknowledges this overreliance on property taxes, the current education funding system will continue to be regressive compared to states with less property tax reliance.

Democrats also pointed to other problematic sections of the report, including an emphasis on the Chicago Block Grants without acknowledgement of the pension inequity resulting from Chicago taxpayers subsidizing the downstate teachers’ pension system while receiving very little state support for Chicago teachers’ pensions.

“We have asked Dr. Purvis to include our letter as a permanent part of the Commission record,” Currie added.

“It’s important that the commission provide parents, educators and other concerned taxpayers with a clear overview of the areas in which legislators did not reach a consensus, and what areas still need to be more fully evaluated,” McAsey said. “Ultimately, the aspects that reflect the governor’s own agenda that have been included despite the fact they received little to no vetting by the commission, should be removed from the report, and key items that were the primary focus of the group’s discussion should be more fully realized in order to provide a comprehensive roadmap to bipartisan reform.”