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Phil Kadner: Madigan is no champion of schoolchildren

Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

Mike Madigan is creating a special legislative task force in the Illinois House of Representatives to study school funding reform.

Just weeks after the governor’s own bipartisan school funding reform commission released its recommendations, the Illinois House speaker said he needs a new study.

I write about public education a lot. That’s because there is absolutely nothing that better reflects the deceitful and corrupt political system of this state than the issue of school funding.

OPINION

Follow @csteditorialsFor three decades, governors, state legislators and state school superintendents have known the way public school money is distributed is unfair and discriminates against children born into poverty.

They also acknowledge the amount of money the state spends on public education is woefully inadequate.

As a result, property taxes have skyrocketed in Illinois, forcing elderly people on fixed incomes to sell their homes, causing businesses to close their doors and motivating young families to move to Indiana and Wisconsin. Local property taxes now pay for more than 67 percent of the cost of a public education, while the state pays for less than 30 percent.

Worse than the economic cost of this financial strategy is the human toll it has taken by denying generations of school children an adequate education and a fair chance at a better life.

I’ve been writing about the connection between inadequate state school funding and property tax bills since 1994. I saw Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican, try to swap property taxes for income taxes to increase school funding, after the hypocrite destroyed his Democratic opponent, Dawn Clark Netsch, for proposing the same idea during her campaign.

I saw Republican Gov. George Ryan create a school funding task force that included businessmen with the idea of making schools more economically efficient.

That group instead determined the schools were underfunded by the state government and needed billions in new money.

I saw the Rev. James Meeks, a state senator at the time, threaten to run for governor against Rod Blagojevich unless Blagojevich agreed to increase income taxes to fund the schools. Blagojevich said he would. He did not. Blagojevich went to prison. Meeks managed to pass a school funding reform bill in the state Senate, but Madigan killed it in the House.

Meeks became so angry that he left the Democratic Party and campaigned for Republican Bruce Rauner for governor and is now Rauner’s state school board chairman.

Rauner has promised to freeze property taxes (without explaining how schools would subsequently balance their budgets). He also has said he would increase state school funding, but he’s never explained where he would get the money in a state that is $11 billion in debt.

And another school funding reform bill, this one sponsored by state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, passed the Senate but was killed by Madigan in the House.

Politicians have always made false promises about the schools and children in this state and voters have never held them accountable.

Rauner did create a bipartisan school funding reform commission led by his state education secretary, Beth Purvis, but the group never proposed a specific legislative remedy.

Now Purvis says she is worried that Madigan is looking to co-opt school funding reform. Too late. Purvis had her chance to bring her band of Democrats and Republicans together behind a bill, but she decided to punt rather than run with the ball.

There is a reason property taxes are high and school funding is inadequate. The system works for elected officials in this state. They can promise to improve the schools, vow to lower property taxes (since it has no impact on state spending) and then do nothing.

Madigan’s a pretty smart guy. But he’s no champion of public school children.

Email: philkadner@gmail.com

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