Students play ball after school on the playground of Audubon School. | Sun-Times file photo

Rep. Bob Dold: How Illinois punishes schools with poorest kids

SHARE Rep. Bob Dold: How Illinois punishes schools with poorest kids
SHARE Rep. Bob Dold: How Illinois punishes schools with poorest kids

If the partisan dysfunction in Springfield is slowly driving you crazy, you’re not alone. There’s no doubt we need more leaders who understand the importance of cooperation and who are willing to do what’s best for our state regardless of politics.

Decades of over overspending by career politicians in Springfield have left our state finances a mess – and there is no easy solution – but certainly there is much more we can agree on than we disagree on.

Educating future generations and giving our children the best chance to succeed should be near the top of that list.


That’s why, as a father of three children and the son of a public school teacher, I was appalled to discover that politicians in Springfield are using federal dollars meant for our children’s education to bail themselves out when they can’t agree on a fiscally responsible budget. For years, Springfield has taxed our children’s schools, taking away federal money for programs that benefit the most in-need students in order to pay off their debt.

These Title I federal education funds are intended to provide assistance to our schools serving at-risk children and those with disabilities so that we can give all students the best chance to succeed, but instead the funds have been used to bail out fiscal mismanagement. Springfield has collected almost $75 million each year this way, about $60 million of which is going to pay down old debts.

For example, consider a hypothetical in which there are two school districts: District A has a high property tax base and serves few low-income children while District B has a low property tax base and enrolls mostly low-income students. Because District B has a smaller base of local revenue, the district relies on federal Title I dollars to hire many of its teachers.

Each district hires a teacher at a $40,000 salary. District A uses local funds and pays $232 to the Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS) toward the teacher’s pension.

District B uses federal Title I funds, and because the funding is from a federal source, the district is forced to pay $14,400 to TRS for pension costs for the same $40,000 teacher salary. The state overcharges schools that use federal funds to make up for the state’s historic failure to pay past pension obligations.

This is irresponsible and wrong. Illinois students should not be punished for politician’s failures to pass a responsible budget, and perhaps most troubling is that the communities in the most need of these funds are absorbing the brunt of the pain.

That’s why I’ve introduced legislation, the Stand Up for Students Act, to ban this corrupt practice. If our bill becomes law, Illinois schools could afford to hire more than 1,500 new teachers with money left to spend on retaining experienced educators.

There is a lot that we can and should do to improve our schools, and certainly major reforms are needed to fix the mess in Springfield, but under no circumstances should politicians be hurting low-income students as a short-term “fix.”

I’ll be working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this bill passed. In the meantime, I encourage you to call your local state representatives and tell them to end the abhorrent practice of jeopardizing our state’s future to continue funding politician’s past mistakes.

Bob Dold, a Republican, was elected to Congress from Illinois’ 10th District in 2015. He previously served as the north suburban district’s congressman from 2011 to 2013.

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