School Funding and AWOL Republicans

One of the biggest news stories of late has been the funding “crisis” experienced by Illinois public schools. The single most amazing aspect of this story has been the almost total lack of debate about whether there really is a lack of funding. Instead of the proper coverage of two or more viewpoints, the news articles typically read much like a school district press release.

This is not to say there aren’t districts around the state that have legitimate needs. What this is saying is that Illinois taxpayers are and have been doing more than their part for better than a decade. Unmet needs are not due to a lack of funds, but to an ill-designed structure incapable of efficiency.

What is discussed instead is whether to fund the schools more through the income tax and less through the property tax. Switching to the income tax is actually just the establishment attempting to get more money out of taxpayers’ wallets. Because property taxes cause pain and foster a higher level of awareness on the part of those picking up the tab, the educationists prefer the income tax.

As far as the state paying “it’s fair share,” this argument wants us to ignore that all local tax collection is authorized by state statute. To cry about which pocket the tax money comes from is to detract attention away from what the real problem is: the lack of effective incentives for wise spending.

There is a well developed and growing school reform movement in America made up of education experts and grassroots activists. From the Fordham Foundation to the Friedman Foundation to all the leading think tanks, a reoccurring theme is found: the only genuine solution is the deconstruction of the government run school system.

Taxpayers (through their government) provide food stamps instead of opening up grocery stores. Taxpayers pay medical bills via Medicare and Medicaid instead of controlling all the doctors and hospitals. So the idea of school vouchers is far from revolutionary. Taxpayers pay for K-12 education, so it’s unnecessary to have a government run school system.

The only solution to the quality issue is greater accountability and competition. The only solution to the cost problem is the introduction of market forces. There is absolutely no reason why taxpayers should bear the burden of paying salaries, health care benefits, and pension plans in most districts that are not only far out of line with those received in the private sector, they have no correlation to performance.

Where are our Republican legislators in all of this? I’ve yet to see a Republican legislator quoted in any of these recent news reports. I have to assume they’re either AWOL or scared to death of the rabid political power of the education establishment. Since a member of the General Assembly is in session even fewer hours and fewer days than public school teachers are in the classroom, I know they have time to get up to speed on the facts regarding the real education crisis.

Republican silence on this issue might be due to the fact that too many of them accept teacher union PAC money. To accept these contributions is to buy into the wrong diagnosis and thus the wrong cure for what ails the public schools.

It’s easy to recommend the terrific resource of the online salary databases which exist; they post the most up-to-date figures on how much Illinois taxpayers have increased their funding of public schools since 1983. Those numbers speak for themselves. There are also links to websites of many research institutions and grassroots organizations that have information powerful enough to illuminate even the dimmest bulb in the General Assembly.

This information will set the record straight on the so-called funding “crisis.” The current problems will never be solved with more tax dollars. And as citizens we have the right to demand what our state’s constitution calls for. Please note the words “efficient” and “high quality:”

“A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities. The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services.”

— From Article X of the Illinois Constitution.