ST. CHARLES – When Illinois legislators overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of Senate Bill 1 – the school funding bill – state Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, did not vote.
She also voted against the final bipartisan bill that passed Aug. 31, Senate Bill 1947.
McConnaughay said that although aspects of the bill were positive, she could not support it because her constituents in Kane and McHenry counties would not have benefited as much as they should have.
She spoke at length Friday at the Kane County Chronicle office about the new school funding bill – its good points, its deficiencies and what lawmakers need to do to continue addressing school inequities between suburban districts and Chicago Public Schools.
McConnaughay also spoke about legislators continuing their efforts to get property tax relief.
“When we passed the budget, there was an appropriation passed for funding education,” McConnaughay said. “It was predicated on the passage of a new school funding formula.”
Rauner appointed McConnaughay to be part of a bipartisan commission to look at school funding reform.
“We spent two years researching various approaches to funding education that ensured all children, regardless of background, would receive adequate funding,” McConnaughay said. “And what drives that – certainly out here – is that school funding is paid through property taxes predominantly. … We pay very high taxes, but we also get a very high-quality education.”
Other parts of the state also paid high taxes for schools but ended up with a low tax base, she said. Some would be small industrial towns where a single large manufacturing employer left “and there is very little tax base left.”
“Their taxes are very high – as they are here – but they are taxing a very small amount of financial resources,” McConnaughay said.
The differences between have and have-not districts can be stark, McConnaughay said. In St. Charles, each student has his or her own computer, but in poorer districts, an entire school shares one or two computers, she said.
“In this day and age, if we are going to make all Illinois children ready to compete in a global economy, we have to make sure that they have adequate resources in order to be competitive,” McConnaughay said.
What passed was an evidence-based model that looks at every school district individually, considers its resources and challenges, and then arrives at what is a necessary level of financial adequacy for that specific school district, McConnaughay said.
What was wrong with the previous education funding reform passed in the 1990s was that lawmakers chose a one-size-fits-all amount of money model for each child in the state, she said.
“For the first time going forward, the formula – that will do a much better job of assuring kids from financially challenged communities will have the necessary resources to get a quality education,” McConnaughay said. “That is what the new formula is going to address.”
The positives of the bill include the fact that none of the districts will receive less than they already do, McConnaughay said.
But other problems that could not be overcome to garner McConnaughay’s support had to do with the ability of local taxpayers to initiate a referendum to reduce its district’s spending – if the spending was 110 percent or more beyond what the new formula considers as adequate.
“None of the districts in my Senate district qualify,” McConnaughay said. “What was put together would not offer property tax relief for my district … that my constituency is asking for.”
More money going to poorer districts will maintain pressure on property taxes, McConnaughay said.
Other nonstarters for McConnaughay were not enough mandated relief. However, there was some provided, such as no longer requiring waivers for contracting out for driver’s education teachers and reducing physical education requirements to three days a week, down from five.
But for the past 20 years, Chicago schools have had no restrictions on third-party contracting, something not afforded to the rest of the state’s school districts, McConnaughay said.
“Mandate relief – this is good,” McConnaughay said. “Not good enough. … All school districts should have the same tools and resources.”
McConnaughay said the next step is for the Legislature to continue working on taxpayer empowerment.
“If we are going to burden our taxpayers with high property taxes, they should be empowered about how much government they want,” McConnaughay said.