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School funding reform

With Illinois still ranking 49th out of 50 states in support for education, the Civic Action Forum of the Community Renewal Society is holding a forum on school funding to highlight research by the Chicago Reporter and the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, Sunday, April 19, 1:30 p.m., at St. Paul’s United Church, 2335 N. Orchard.  Next month members of CRS congregations will head to Springfield to push for school funding reform.

Who’s running Renaissance 2010?

With hundreds of parents and students protesting school closings at today’s Board of Education meeting, Mike Klonsky discusses the “emerging class of venture philanthropists” including “equity-fund millionaires, corporate lobbyists and downtown real estate developers,” which is bankrolling Renaissance 2010.

According to Klonsky, Renaissance 2010 “is really about closing dozens of neighborhood schools, eliminating hundreds of teachers, closing in-school community service programs and replacing them with non-union charter schools run by entrepreneurs and based on the business model.”

Parents United for Responsible Education highlights the donors and board members of the  private Renaissance Schools Fund, which “both bankrolls and makes decisions for Mayor Daley’s Renaissance 2010 program.”  They point out that many major donors are opponents of state school funding reform.

Meanwhile, Substance’s new online news service has reports from the first two hearings on school closings, held January 26.  As usual, the vast majority of those testifying opposed the action.

At Las Casas Occupational High School, the only Chicago school serving children with severe emotional handicaps, parents pointed out that the CPS plan to ship students out to private institutions will only return them to settings that have failed them in the past.

Support for School Funding Reform Grows

A town hall meeting on school funding reform Thursday in Chicago Heights is one of dozens planned for coming weeks by the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition and its local supporters around the state.

With wealthy school districts now joining others facing financial difficulties, support for reform is greater than it’s been in decades, said coalition chair Sharon Voliva.

The BFBS Coalition (which includes numerous local school boards) is promoting discussion of measures proposed by State Sen. James Meeks to broaden the school funding tax base, increase state general funds going to education, and provide property tax relief.

Illinois is one of the states most reliant on property taxes, and consequently the worst of 50 states in terms of school funding equity, according to Education Week.

And the property tax is “maxing out” as a revenue source for schools, said Scott Goldstein of the A-Plus Illinois Coalition, a new group that works on funding reform along with educational quality and accountability. Goldstein expects greater business community involvement in coming months.

A-Plus Illinois is planning back-to-school events to highlight the issue, as is Fair Funding for Illinois Schools, a new group that works to mobilize Chicago parents.

The BFBS Coalition town hall is Thursday, August 19, 7 p.m. at Prairie State College auditorium in Chicago Heights.

Springfield: Legislative Update

With the state legislature turning to the budget, nonprofit advocates are keeping up pressure for action on bills which have already passed one house of the General Assembly. Here’s a partial rundown:

Budget referendum. SB 151 calls for a statewide referendum asking whether voters would support an income tax increase up to 1 percent for up to two years “to avoid drastic cuts in state support for public education and essential health care services”; passed the Senate. For more: Jennifer Holuj, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, 312/332-1348.

Minimum wage. SB 600 raises state’s minimum wage to $6.50 an hour; passed Senate. For more: Madeline Talbott, ACORN, 312/939-7488.

Equal pay. SB 2 bans gender-based wage discrimination; passed Senate. Toni Henie, Women Employed, 312/782-3902.

Universal health care. HB 2268, Health Care Justice Act, establishes planning process to implement a health care plan with access for full range of preventive, acute, and long-range service; passed House. Jim Duffett, Campaign for Better Health Care, 312/939-9449.

Earned Income Tax Credit. SB 4 and HB 2186 extend the EITC, and both have passed one house; the House bill makes the tax credit refundable starting in 2005. John Bouman, National Center for Poverty Law, 312/368-2671.

Child-care assistance. HB 294 updates eligibility for child-care assistance to 50 percent of median income, pushing back the “child-care cliff” facing thousands of welfare-to-work families; passed the House. Contact Nora Moreno Cargie, Day Care Action Council, 312/742-7529.

Videotaping interrogations. SB 15 requires videotaping interrogations in murder investigations, with funding through the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority; passed Senate. Darrin Bowden, First Defense Legal Aid, 773/826-6550.

Welfare reform. HB 1360 increases TANF grant amount by 5 percent and provides annual adjustments; HB 3021 phases out the “family cap” adopted in 1995 in order to provide support for 10-20,000 children currently cut off; both passed the House. John Bouman, National Center for Poverty Law, 312/368-2671.

Early Education. SB 565 would establish an Illinois Early Learning Council to coordinate programs in different departments. HB 2235 increases funding for programs for kids aged 0-to-3 to reach thousands of additional at-risk children. Dan Baron, Ounce of Prevention, 312/922-3863.

Children’s Mental Health Act. HB 2900 expands and coordinates the existing system; currently only about 20 percent of children who need mental health services receive them. Dan Baron, Ounce of Prevention, 312/922-3863.

Immigrant education. HB 60 allows Illinois high-school grads to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities regardless of immigration status; passed house. Marissa May Graciosa, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, 312/332-7360.

Youth transitional housing. HB 2390 eases legal restrictions to facilitate shelter and services for homeless minors; passed House. Les Brown, Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, 312/435-4548.

Subsidized housing. HB 2246 gives property tax rebates to owners who rent to housing subsidy voucher holders in low-poverty areas; HB 2345 establishes a state interagency task force to develop an annual housing plan; both passed the House. SB 591 requires owners of assisted housing to give 12 months advance notice of their intent to sell or end subsidies. For more: Bob Palmer, Statewide Housing Action Council, 312/939-6074.

Energy. HB 2200 requires utilities to generate 5 percent of energy from renewable sources by 2010 and 15 percent by 2020; passed House. SB 609 establishes a statewide energy efficiency building codes for all new residential and commercial construction; passed Senate. For more: Mike Truppa, Environmental Law and Policy Center, 312/673-6500,

Campaign reform. SB 1415 provides public financing option for judicial candidates and limits private financing. Cindi Canary, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, 312/335-1767.

Town Hall Meeting on School Finance

Parents who give all their spare time to fundraising and volunteering at their children’s schools haven’t had time for the larger issue of adequate state funding, says Faith Spencer, education chair of the Northside Parents Network.

But with a growing school finance crisis — 80 percent of Illinois school districts now operate with a deficit — the state’s national rank as 48th in support for education is getting more attention, she says.

NPN boosts public education by helping parents with information on school choices and providing support ranging from a babysitting co-op to informational workshops.

Saturday the group is co-sponsoring a Town Hall meeting on state funding for education, with new State Senate Education Committee chair Miguel del Valle and others. The event is co-sponsored by the Chicago School Leadership Cooperative, which marshals community support for LSCs, and Network 21, a group of civic leaders advocating school finance reform. The Town Hall is Sat., March 22, 1 p.m., at the Lincoln-Belmont Library, 1656 W. Melrose.

Explaining Chicago’s Taxes – and Illinois’ School Budget Crisis

Two new editions of the League of Women Voters’ now-classic booklet on “Chicago’s Tax Maze” are out, including the first Spanish-language edition. Using a straightforward style and illustrated with cartoons, the booklet explains how the property tax is figured and where it goes, and how it fits into the larger tax system.

Reliance on the property tax has made Illinois taxes increasingly regressive, says co-author Edna Pardo. “It’s an old-fashioned tax” based on a bygone farm economy, she says, “and it doesn’t go to where the wealth is.”

In her view, it’s also the key to inadequate funding for schools — and to the giant disparity in funding between school districts. “We’ll never have equal education if we don’t deal with this,” said Pardo. “We really to have to increase the income tax and get off the property tax.” Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago) has introduced legislation (SB 23) that would do that.

But with more nearly a third of the state’s school districts suddenly listed as “financially troubled” by the state, the situation is critical. Meanwhile, Pardo points out, CHA families are being moved to property-tax-starved south suburbs, making the problem of “no equal opportunity for quality education” worse

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