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Committee on school funding a good first step

Published: Monday, June 17, 2013 12:44 p.m. CDT

The following editorial appeared in the The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill. on Sunday, June 16:

(MCT) — There could be an important, and vital, discussion about school funding over the next several months.

We emphasize “could” because Illinois government doesn’t always follow through on good ideas.

The good idea is a group called the General Assembly’s Advisory Committee on Education Funding. A resolution establishing the committee was ushered through the General Assembly this session by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill.

The committee will be composed of 12 members of the General Assembly, evenly split between the Senate and the House and Democrats and Republicans.

Their charge is to advise the General Assembly on education funding and how it should be altered. It’s well known in education and political circles that the current funding system for pre-kindergarten through high school is a mess. It’s needlessly complicated, unfair and too many students are graduating from the system unprepared for college or the workforce.

In recent years, state funding has been cut, putting more reliance on local taxpayers and forcing many schools to run deficit budgets. Almost as damaging as reduced funding, is the unpredictability of state funding for education. Schools simply can’t rely on the state supplying the money that’s promised.

The committee will meet at least four times, looking at the funding formula, its impact on schools and suggesting ways to improve the system. It’s not an easy task.

When politicians are asked about school funding, most will admit the process doesn’t work well and should be changed. When asked why that doesn’t happen, the general answer is the issue is too complex and too hard to bring competing views to the table.

There’s little doubt some school districts — many of them in property-rich suburban Chicago counties — have little reason to change the current system. Legislators also are wary of increasing school spending, especially at a time when the state’s budget is in disarray.

But effective school funding doesn’t necessarily equate to additional school funding. The education system in Illinois is bloated with too many districts. Other changes need to be made so more dollars that are pumped into the system affect student outcomes.

The committee could be a great start. Our only concern is such committees have previously failed to materialize. Appointments haven’t been made, meetings haven’t been called and deadlines haven’t been met.

Manar’s committee is a good idea and it’s a discussion that is long overdue. We encourage leaders in both chambers to quickly make appointments and let the committee start its work.

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