By Rich Bodee
On the morning of Oct. 6, before school even began at both Morton East and West high schools, students, parents, and faculty rallied in support of three things: K-12 and college education funding, a call to end standardized testing, and education funding equality.
“The rallies were sponsored by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), which is a national coalition between labor unions, mainly the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association,” Robert Bartlett, a teacher at Morton West said.
Teachers and speakers spoke out in support of education funding for K-12 and college. An example of funding for college in Illinois would be the MAP grant.
“We are called to support the funding of MAP grants so that our students can attend college without going into massive debt,” Bartlett said.
As far as standardized testing, Bartlett said most teachers dislike the year-end Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers – or PARCC—test.
“Teachers feel that mandated tests, like PARCC, end up disrupting school for an inordinate amount of time for a test that our students feel means nothing to them,” he said.
Then there’s the issue of education funding equality.
Morton East and West are both in District 201. Like all districts in the state of Illinois, public schools receive funding from three different revenue streams: federal funding, state funding, and funding from property taxes within the community.
According to USNews.com and the Committee for Education Funding, federal funding for education has risen 36 percent since 2002 from $50 billion to $68 billion. The federal government has invested and continues to invest in education in the form of state funds.
State funding has been a persistent issue, especially because of the Illinois budget crisis. Many schools in Illinois received money later than usual. It is important to note that schools receive more than just one grant.
“We receive Title 1, 2, and 3 and SIG Grants from Illinois [which] is a flow through from the federal government,” Superintendent Michael Kuzniewski said.
But the real problem is with the final method of contributing funds, property taxes. Anyone who owns an apartment, a condominium, a house, or business property in any given community pays property taxes. Those funds go to the county and then the county divides up the money. A portion of the money then goes to public schools in the area.
The kicker is, the more money generated from property taxes, the more money goes to local schools. Therefore, in areas where you have lower property values, the schools will receive less money. Examples of that are Morton East and West.
According to the Illinois Report Card of 2015-2016, the average school district receives 7.7 percent of its money from federal funding, 24.9 percent from state funding, and a whopping 67.4 percent from local funding.
In addition, according to an NPR article from April, the national average of money spent per student (by the district) is $11,841. The article also cites Illinois’ average of money spent per student as $12,007.
Morton High District 201 spends $9,935 per student, well below the national and state averages, according to the NPR article.
And just crossing Roosevelt Road can make a huge difference.
“Our district spends $6,182 a year in instructional costs per student, while OPRF (Oak Park River Forest High School) spends $12,821 a year per student,” Bartlett said. “This allows them to offer six to seven classes per student each year, while our students only get five classes a year.”
Raising taxes in relatively less affluent areas is one way to get more money for schools, but it is a big problem, Bartlett said.
“The ability of poor areas to pay more is limited,” he said. “Reliance on income that is generated based on the relative wealth of an area is guaranteeing that inequalities will persist in perpetuity.”
“I do not believe in property tax as a good means for funding education,” he said. “I think the state needs a more equitable formula that takes need into account.”
Bartlett suggested the solution could be a progressive state income tax where the people who make more money pay more in property taxes.
“In Illinois, that would mean changing the state constitution to enact a progressive income tax that can be used to reduce the reliance on property taxes,” Bartlett said.