Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Phil Kadner rightly blames the Tribune for damning poor kids with broke schools

Phil Kadner's latest column in the Daily Southtown slashes the Chicago Tribune for its role in keeping poor children with poor schools.

In May, as Senator James Meeks (I-Calumet City) was working to craft an Invest In Illinois package to implement a 5% income tax and hire teachers for poor children, the Tribune came out with a massive, front-page study that .... well, I'll let Kadner explain it:

The spending gap between the richest and poorest school districts in the state has reached a 10-year high, with more than $19,000 per student separating the folks at the top from those at the bottom.

Those results were published in the Chicago Tribune, which has opposed just about every major school funding reform effort in the state over the past decade.

Earlier this year it discovered, after massive research, that a plan to increase taxes to raise more money for the public schools would increase taxes.


That Tribune report -- which did not mention how much more revenue would go to the in-the-red school districts, and only mentioned how much taxes would go up (and how relatively paltry the property tax relief component of SB 750 turned out to be) by each area of the state -- killed a lot of momentum for any Invest In Illinois initiative.

Kadner's full column is here (for now).

Here are some of the highlights:

You see, the governor and state legislators have long taken the position that school funding is the state's worst problem.

They claim they're going to do something about it when running for election or re-election.

And they say they're going to do something about it without raising taxes.

How can you get more money for the schools without raising taxes?

By trimming the fat, making the schools more accountable, forcing students to take more tests and waving a magic wand over a top hat.

Voters love that kind of talk.

The constitution also states that "education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free."

How many of you folks spent hundreds, maybe even thousands, of dollars last year on school fees to support those "free public schools?"

Most schools these days also have fundraising drives to support the band, sports teams and clubs that used to be part of the "free public school system."

"The state cannot allow us to keep having wider and wider gaps between wealthy and poor districts," Sharon Voliva, chairman of the Better Funding for Better Schools Coalition, told the Tribune.

Voliva, who has spent the past 15 years fighting for school children, is wrong.

With the help of the Tribune, politicians in Illinois can do nothing forever.


Hon. John Fritchey said...


I kind of agree with you, but I think your headline is slightly off. Phil I think rightly points out that the blame does not belong to the Tribune, it belongs to the General Assembly. Since 1995, I have openly run as supporting a tax swap (in a district that would potentially pay more no less) and I think that people understand the issue and more importantly, understand that there has not been a better proposal put on the table to date.

I met with Ralph Martire yesterday and we were discussing this very issue. Candidates love to say that they support education and teachers, etc., but then put their heads in the sand when it comes time to show that support. If you do not support a 750esque concept, then come up with a better one. In other words, lead or get out of the way.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

That's true -- the General Assembly ultimately deserves the blame (or more precisely, the legislators who don't support an Invest Our Income In Illinois plan). But I liked how Kadner called out the Tribune for its role as an active supporter of keeping poor kids with poor schools. The Trib needs to change its position. I have another question: do you think the property tax relief component of 750 is oversold? Fence-sitting legislators always seem to zero in on their disbelief that property taxes will really fall.

Hon. John Fritchey said...

I don't think that the relief is oversold (although I guess it depends on who says what to whom). Where the debate gets muddied is in the fact that in addition to property tax relief, we truly need property tax reform. This is not something that inherently needs to be a part of 750, but it is an issue that must be addressed.

Anonymous said...

1. In today's world (vs. 30-50 years ago), intangible property is increasingly important and a larger proportion of total property (tangible and intangible).

Any sort of tax and governance system that does not acknowledge this is somewhat dated. Indefinitely trying to use taxes from tangible property to accomplish the same objectives may overtax tangible property and let intangible property off-the-hook in regards to public policy and social concerns. There is no big incentive to use intangible property productively and in ways that benefit the state. Intangible property is stuff like brands, degrees, trademarks and other.

2. The Tribune may be trending toward a pile of crap. It starts with the board. There are some good writers there, and I feel sorry good writers that work for such crappy management. The city of Chicago is going to feel the effects of such crappy management. I would refer to on-line news such as Yahoo, MSN, CNN and others.

3. Part of education problems are parents and have little to do with education. We live in an era where parents have all the rights and kids have none. Parents do not sacrifice for kids. Families are not stable. We may need more money, but we also need more parental involvement and recognition of children rights. No one speaks up for kids. Let's face it: baby boomers are indulgent.

respectful said...

OK John, you asked for an alternative. How about a law that removes all state aid from the top-spending .5% of school districts and redistributes it to the lowest .5%? Or puts a spending cap on the top .5%?

Either way, we'd stop or slow the spending growth from a handful of the wealthiest districts. If the goal is to reduce the disparity between the highest and lowest spending disticts, my plan should work, IF the legislature would pass it.

Hon. John Fritchey said...

I appreciate the thought but that still doesn't address the unfair reliance on property tax and the effects that it has on everyone from homeowners to renters to our students.

Dan Johnson-Weinberger said...

Why does property tax relief need to be part of the deal? If we inject more money into the poorer schools, wouldn't that alleviate the need to rely on the property tax and avoid the issue of trying to convince people that their property taxes will really go down? I agree that property tax reform is needed and that seems like a cleaner argument than promising property tax relief. If you could wave a magic wand, how would you reform our property tax?

respectful said...

The more sweeping the reform, the harder it is to pass. At least that's my perspective. If the top priority is reducing the disparity, my plan does it. If the top goal is reforming property taxes, good luck, esp. in Cook County.

Anonymous said...

"If you could wave a magic wand, how would you reform our property tax?"

More data would be nice before knowing what to do. For example, it would be nice to know aggregate $s collected by year historically for the state of Illinois (calculate annual growth rates in property taxes), $s collected by type of property (commercial, residential, other), comparable benchmark data for other states that are similar to Illinois, etc.

The housing boom and potental real estate bubble means lots of people in the U.S. have stretched to buy homes. People have borrowed lots of money. Consumers are maxed out. Property tax bills add to consumer worries and take away money that could be spent on other things. One positive to property taxes is that it may encourage owners of property to be productive and to use property productively.

On another note: congratulations on the posting from someone who said you do not know what you are talking about when it comes to the CTA. When people attack without the slightest attempt at arguing with the substance of what was written, this may indicate defensiveness - you may be on to something.

Matt G said...

RE the question, "If you could wave a magic wand, how would you reform our property tax," I think the first goal should be to retool Illinois property tax relief programs to provide targeted relief to the low-income and elderly homeowners and renters who are least able to pay them. Illinois spends a lot of money on property tax relief already-- but very little of it is designed to ensure that the property tax has some relationship to your "ability to pay." Putting more teeth in the state's "circuit breaker" targeted tax credit would be a great place to start: increase the income limits, make it available not just to elderly people but non-elderlies as well.

The broader, across-the-board cuts proposed by HB 750 et al are probably a good idea as well, given the chronic imbalance between Illinois' high property taxes and low income taxes, but a more sensible, less costly alternative is to do a better job of targeting Illinois' current property tax relief dollars to those Illinoisans for whom these taxes are most burdensome.

There are a lot of reasons why the property tax tends to be the most unpopular state/local tax. But first among them, I think, is that the tax you pay often has no relationship to your ability to pay it. When you lose your job, your income tax will go down (since you're not earning anything), but your property tax won't. A good circuit breaker credit can change that.

Check out our study of the Illinois tax system at www.itepnet.org for more on this.

Anonymous said...

if you lose your job, property taxes are an incentive for you or someone in your household to do something to generate income. reduce this incentive and people may not be as effective.

property taxes (and public policy and economic growth) have to recognize intangible property is growing in relative importance (vs. tangible property). continuing to use taxes from tangible property to fund education will not be nearly as adequate today as it was 50 years ago. a progressive income tax rate structure somewhat recognizes this, but it is indirect.

progressive income taxes could be easier to pitch given reductions in marginal income tax rates at federal level. even if you increase income tax 1 or 2% in IL, wealthy people may still be better off (top income tax rates for federal went from 39.6% to 35%?). if IL income tax could be linked to moves at federal level it might be nifty (eg, if federal taxes go up lots in future, reduce state income tax. if federal taxes go down or remain constant, increase state income tax).

Lazerlou said...

Property tax based school funding is the most shameful example of how poverty and class sociey perpetuates itself. That the USSC has decided that the equal protection clause ends at the city line is dispicable. We should divest the local yokel politicians from protecting their own, the shameful state politicians who have allowed this to go on. We need a federal right to educaion, and thereafter the 14th amendment would apply and therefore New Trier kids would not have 19K more spent on each of them a year than poor balck kids fro East St. Louis or the South side. Shame on any democrat who is not so concerned with basic justice that they have allowed the status quo to persist. Shame.

Anonymous said...

With the exception of the guy who asked about giving the high paying districts a hair cut, no one here is even considering the best solution, which is to dramatically cut the education budget.

I know this sounds like heresy in the fundementalist world of politics - where every dime kept out of schools "hurts the children" - but it is true nonetheless.

The Big Education Industry (see "Big Oil & Tobacco") has robbed the state blind with pension schemes, hidden contract clauses that hike pay, and administrative bloat. This spending does nothing "for the children." In fact, it robs them of a decent education.

Now, we all know this is a blue state, with a Constitution that protects expanding government above all things. For that reason, you can all seemingly afford to ignore this post, call it "radical" and dismiss any who agree with it as a small minority.

This is possible only due the current political dynamic. Should that dynamic change, it will be a different story. The fact is that the huge tax increase (it isn't a swap unless it is revenue neutral) promoted by Rep. Fritchey (and the Press PR Machine) won't help connect one more neuron in one child's head.

You can't afford to admit this(even to yourselves), but if you were serious about educating children, you'd fund the child, and not the ficticious, wasteful, and bureaucratic constructs that form your network of political patronage.