Education is the single most important vehicle for social and economic mobility, and the single best tool we have as a society to prepare our young people for the challenges of a democratic society and for economic success. I am fortunate to serve as vice-chair of the state’s education committee, where I can work on this issue that I care about deeply.
- In 2009, I introduced and passed SB1828 which creates the Longitudinal Education Data System Act. The bill requires the State education authorities to collect student records, and integrate the data with instructional management tools that will ultimately improve instruction and enhance educational decision making.
- I also introduced SB2119, which amends the school code and created the Innovation, Intervention and Restructuring Task Force. This group is charged with developing strategies to allow for the innovation, intervention, and restructuring of schools, including those that need comprehensive or focused intervention.
- I have signed on as a chief co-sponsor of the property tax swap bill, which would work to close the funding gap in Illinois between schools in different districts.
Education Funding Reform
Illinois requires significant education funding reform. It is not right that the quality of a child’s education is based on his or her address. In my first term, I signed on to Senate Bill 2288, which would provide a property tax swap to better fund education. This swap would increase income tax and decrease property taxes in order to increase funding for education.
Our state is among the bottom in the country in terms of education funding. While the State has primary responsibility for funding education, currently it contributes just 34% of educational spending in Illinois. Worse still, while the State created the Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB) to set a reasonable “foundation level” of funding to meet school district needs, in 2006 the State provided $1,240 less per pupil than the recommended foundation level. As a result, local school districts – where there are wide disparities in the local property tax base – are left to fund the bulk of their educational needs. This leads to the very wide range of per pupil spending that exists in Illinois – from a low of $4,600/pupil to a high of $17,000/pupil. Not surprisingly, this also contributes to a significant achievement gap between white and minority students.
Illinois must fundamentally reform its funding system. I believe that a modest increase in the State income tax or expansion of the sales tax base is most likely required. While we should obviously control expenses (such as consolidating some school districts), the structural budget deficit requires us to find equitable ways to raise revenues. This issue is one of my top priorities.
Illinois leads the country in efforts to boost funding for and access to early childhood education. As a state senator, I have worked to protect funding received by early childhood program.
Research shows that for every $1 invested in high-quality childhood programs, over $8 are returned to society in the form of higher high school graduation and employment rates, lower special education placements, and reduced rates of crime. I support efforts to increase the number of at-risk students attending quality pre-schools, as well as efforts to ensure that vulnerable infants and toddlers are able to access federally funded developmental screenings that help identify and address learning issues early. These are the sorts of investments Illinois should continue to make a priority.
The State must establish mechanisms to ensure that new education dollars are well spent. We need greater transparency in district and school budgets, along with clear reporting on school performance. In addition, new dollars should be used to fund practices that are proven to improve student achievement – things such as smaller class sizes, recruiting and mentoring new teachers to reduce turnover, experiment with improved methods to evaluate teacher and school performance, and find ways to expect more from its teacher and principal preparation programs.
Support for Teachers
The greatest resource in any school is the teachers and leaders it is able to attract, support, develop and keep. There is a growing body of research (and common sense) to suggest that strong recruitment and induction programs dramatically reduce teacher turnover and help attract talented teachers to the schools that need them most. A recent study details the degree to which teachers in Chicago are inequitably distributed, with the least experienced and trained teachers disproportionately working in high-poverty schools. The Chicago Public Schools has undertaken to address this gap, and its efforts are beginning to pay off, with studies indicating that the district is attracting teachers with stronger academic qualifications than ever before, hiring earlier in the year, and bringing the number of classroom vacancies to an all time low. The State can and should support such local efforts.
In 2002, the gap in earnings between a high school graduate and a college graduate was just under $30,000 a year. As importantly, more and more jobs require some amount of post-secondary education. Unfortunately, the cost of higher education in Illinois is growing at an alarming rate. While tuition costs at public universities are swelling, the amount of financial aid available to students through Illinois’ Monetary Award Program (MAP) is not keeping pace. If we are serious about ensuring college access to moderate and low-income families, we must provide meaningful oversight to public universities and ensure that state financial aid keeps pace with growing costs.