Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Trib joins the 5% (or so) income tax push for "smarter" education

Today the Tribune's editorial board starts calling for a 5% (or so) state income tax to invest a good chunk of the 2 or 3 billion in new revenue into K-12 education.

One particularly nice part of the editorial is the call for voters and legislators to consider the investment in the entire state, and not just how they would come out under any change.
There is a corrosive habit of citizens, and their politicians, to weight only what a different funding scheme would mean for their communities.

Illinois needs to outgrow this penchant for school financing that can't look beyond economic self-interest. There are plenty of reasons for Effingham taxpayers to care about Hinsdale school children, for Hinsdale taxpayers to care about Harvey school children, for Harvey taxpayers to care about Effingham students. We've just never acknowledged as a state that the future economic health, workforce and leadership of Illinois depend on better educating all of our children. And yes, all children can learn.
This echoes of Obama. I recall one of the themes of his Senate campaign: "When a grandmother on the South Side has to choose between her food and her medicine, I am poorer for it. When a child can't breathe at night because of asthma, I am sicker for it. It is the belief that I am my brother's keeper."

This is a welcome change, as the last time a shift towards statewide funding of education got some traction (SB 755 was voted out of committee in 2006), the Trib ran a front-page story detailing exactly how each school district would make out, comparing the income tax increases the taxpayers would pay (while not noting the federal offset) versus the likely increase in school district revenues. That was a particularly chilly day at the Statehouse and the Trib's hostility was one reason no other Senate Republicans jumped on board the bill. Hopefully the editorial board will sway the news editors a bit this time.

Leadership in 2007 on investing in education is going to be far more decentralized than in previous years. The Governor has boxed himself out of much discussion of the income tax hike that's necessary for statewide funding for education with his needless campaign pledge not to raise the income or sales tax. President Jones has shown every indication that he intends the Senate to take the lead on crafting a smart solution, even prominently quoting the state constitutional provision that reads "The State shall have the primary responsibility in funding education" in his inaugural program. House Democrats were the last chamber that voted for an income tax increase for education, not to mention the almost dozen House Republicans who voted for the income tax increase in the last 90s without one losing a re-election contest on the issue.

And ultimately, the will for an income tax increase for smarter education will come (or not) from us: citizens who tell our legislators that, if they can hire excellent teachers for Illinois kids, we're willing to pay a 5% (or so) income tax.

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