The Examiner U-46 News Feed
U-46 hosts town hall to discuss funding bill
By Seth Hancock
School District U-46 officials continued to push class envy and played the victim as it hosted a town hall meeting with state legislators and representatives of Fix the Formula Illinois to promote House Bill 2808, a so-called “evidence-based” education funding bill, on Monday, April 17, at Elgin High School.
HB2808 has passed the appropriations committee and follows a model created by Allan Odden, a University of Wisconsin professor, and Lawrence Picus, a University of Southern California professor, which has been adopted by several other states. Legislators at the meeting said the state would need at least $3.5 billion in new funds, taxpayer dollars, to adequately fund it.
At the meeting, state representatives claimed the state has a funding problem, not a spending problem, and said Springfield should be picking winners and losers.
“We have a cash flow problem in the state,” said Rep. Anna Moeller (IL-43). “Right now, it’s an ideological struggle that we’re going through.”
The ideology represented at the meeting echoed Karl Marx, who wrote in Critique of the Gotha Program: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
The other ideology, which was not presented at the town hall meeting, recognizes a need to cut spending considering the poor fiscal health of the state.
The Examiner spoke with Rep. Jeanne Ives (IL-42), who recognizes the need for better fiscal management. Ives said where the “evidence-based” approach has been implemented since the early 2000s, there has been “flat or no increase in outcomes.”
The Examiner reviewed data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress from four states–Arkansas, North Dakota, Ohio, Wyoming–using the model that shows Ives is correct.
“Bottom line is that where it’s been implemented, there have been no results in over a decade,” Ives said.
Stanford University professor Eric Hanushek called proponents of the “evidence-based” model “snake-oil salesmen” as he wrote in “Confidence Men: Selling Adequacy, Making Millions” to “pity the poor states that actually implement the Picus and Odden plan. They are sure to be disappointed by the results, and most taxpayers (those who do not work for the schools) will be noticeably poorer.”
At the town hall meeting, legislators and U-46 CEO Tony Sanders claimed the state’s education funding system is unfair and claimed low-income districts are victims. Sanders said the state is “hurting the districts that have the highest needs” and claimed he wants the state to be “the economic driving engine again” which he said is done by taking money out of the economy, the private sector, and redistributing it to government institutions such as U-46.
Rep. Fred Crespo (IL-44) said school districts are too self-reliant with property taxes being heavily used to fund education, and he wants the state to take the lead in funding education while using Vermont as an example. However, Vermont has a population of just over 600,000 residents compared to 12.6 million in Illinois.
U-46 already relies heavily on outside sources as its current budget had 38.1 percent of funding from the state and federal governments, which is higher than the state average of 33.8 percent according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Crespo, Moeller and Sanders, among others at the meeting, complained about “wealthier” school districts such as Lake Bluff Elementary School District 65 for spending more per student than U-46. However, Lake Bluff is far more self-reliant, receiving only 1.3 percent of its funds from the state, 3.9 percent from the feds, according to the ISBE.
Crespo could not answer how the state would pay for HB2808, but floated the idea of raising the income tax rate as well as going to a progressive tax rate, meaning the more money a citizen earns the higher percentage they pay, which Moeller called “fairer.”
“If you make $50,000, if you make a bazillion dollars, you pay 3.75 (percent),” Crespo said. “Everything’s relative.”
However, the definition of fairness is “impartial and just treatment or behavior without favoritism or discrimination,” meaning a progressive tax rate is unfair and punitive toward those who earn more money. Under the current 3.75 percent rate, a resident making $100,000 pays $3,750 while someone making $1 million pays $37,500, making a flat rate more than fair.
Crespo also said “it’s a zero-sum game, the money needs to come from somewhere” meaning he wants Springfield to pick winners and losers, the taxpayers being the losers and the government institutions like U-46 the winners.
Moeller, a Democrat, claimed “we’re all trying not to be partisan” but blamed Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican, saying, “I hate to say it, the leadership at the top” is to blame for the budget situation because Rauner is asking for a property tax freeze as Moeller seemingly ignored how the state government works as the legislative body is required to create a budget, not the governor.
Ives told The Examiner “you can play this game all day long, but something else is going on,” and said the “evidence-based” model will cost more money and will not produce results, which will hurt the state.
Noting how far the central planning goes under the Picus and Odden plan, Ives said it tasks state governments to go as far as determining how many janitors a school district would have, and she asked: “Why do we have superintendents, why do we have principals?”
Internal Revenue Service data showed 2016 was the third straight year in which Illinois saw the largest decrease in population in the nation, a trend Ives said would continue if the state were to increase the income tax rate or go to a progressive tax system.
“People will leave, businesses will flee,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely the wrong way to go. We need to cut expenses. We need to show the citizens that we can spend the money that we do have wisely.”
The state’s debt currently sits at $154.1 billion, according to usdebtclock.org, and the state has consistently ranked at or near the bottom for fiscal health according to George Mason University’s Mercatus Center. The Mercatus Center report ranked the state 47th overall in 2016.
Despite Sanders and U-46 continuing to complain about a lack of state funding, ISBE data and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator shows U-46’s revenue and expenditures have risen far past the rate of inflation over the last decade, while enrollment has declined and test scores have consistently been below the state average.
At the same time, U-46 has continued to expand operations such as offering full-day kindergarten districtwide despite its own data from the previous limited offering showing no educational benefits.
Since the 2012-13 school year, ISBE data shows spending has increased $57.7 million in U-46 but there are nearly 1,000 fewer students enrolled in the district. A new contract for teachers in the district continues to give automatic pay raises each year while the lowest starting salary is over $10,000 more than the average pay of private sector workers in the state, according to data from the Illinois Department of Central Management and U.S. Census Bureau.
The state is also considering shifting pension burdens to local government entities, the bodies that actually negotiate the retirement benefits, as the Teachers’ Retirement System recently voted to lower its investment assumptions, which will cost taxpayers over $400 million this year. Other ratings agencies, such as Moody’s Investors Service and Standard and Poor’s Ratings Services, believe the TRS needs to lower it further, costing nearly $4 billion.
While all the facts point to overspending, Sanders previously has said it is “painful” to simply think about any cuts. Is the property tax freeze and shifting pension liabilities onto those who negotiate those benefits the only way for administrators to recognize the fiscal realities and force them to provide proper fiscal management?