We, the People of the State of Illinois — grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberty which He has permitted us to enjoy and seeking His blessing upon our endeavors — in order to provide for the health, safety and welfare of the people; maintain a representative and orderly government; eliminate poverty and inequality; assure legal, social and economic justice; provide opportunity for the fullest development of the individual; insure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defense; and secure the blessings of freedom and liberty to ourselves and our posterity — do ordain and establish this Constitution for the State of Illinois.
The preamble of this state’s constitution is a lengthy list of promises that our leaders are duty-bound to fulfill. The preamble is lengthy as preambles go, but given Illinois’ current state affairs there should be one other clause: The people are owed the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Last week’s editorial board meeting with Gov. Bruce Rauner was somewhat frustrating. Rauner was in Southern Illinois to promote education in the state — a noble enterprise.
He was also touting a new structural approach for K-12 funding. As many lawmakers — Rauner included — see it, the state should take a larger role in funding our schools, making local districts less reliant on property taxes. The theory being that increased participation by the state will eliminate the inequities between rich and poor districts.
In essence, that state wants to make sure that a student’s zip code isn’t a barometer of quality of education. Again, it’s an admirable goal that we applaud wholeheartedly.
The disparity in funding is shameful. Some school districts spend less than $10,000 per year per student, others spend nearly $30,000. That’s simply unconscionable. And, to be fair, the matter is being addressed in the General Assembly.
Gov. Rauner said the solution to the problem is simple math — and, we agree to an extent.
It's obvious that fixing the problem will take money, and lots of it. That’s an issue. As most Illinois residents know, money is in short supply in the state.
When that matter was broached to Gov. Rauner, he replied that K-12 schools in Illinois are fully funded. There is an element of truth to that, but it isn’t the whole truth and nothing but.
The state has made good on its current school funding obligations. That ignores the fact that only partial payments were made in previous years. Illinois schools, particularly in poor and rural areas, have been dropping music, art, agriculture and industrial arts programs because of financial woes, caused in part by the state not meeting its obligations.
To make the claim that schools are fully funded, in light of that reality, is applying a degree of spin we’re uncomfortable with.
Rauner suggested that his turnaround agenda — lowering taxes on businesses, freezing property taxes and streamlining state government — would provide a stream of revenue to revive a sagging public school system.
This is the frustrating part: When pressed about where additional funding for schools would come from, Rauner began a continuous loop reply, touting his turnaround agenda. Unfortunately, there is a difference between an agenda and a plan.
The agenda is clear, but the details are hazy. The nebulous explanation concerning additional revenue certainly wouldn’t pass muster as a mathematical proof in sophomore geometry.
Frankly, the plan seems long on wishful thinking and short on facts and figures. It bears a startling resemblance to what is happening in Kansas. Gov. Sam Brownback introduced massive tax cuts in that state with the promise that increased business would pump millions of dollars into the economy.
It didn’t happen.
Either the governor or the General Assembly has to produce and pass a plan that will address educational shortcomings immediately. In theory, the governor's plan sounds great. But, theories don't pay bills and Illinois schools need help now.