Illinois Legislature Considering Making Education a ‘Fundamental Right’

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

The state of Illinois may change its constitution to state that education is a “fundamental right” in place of a “primary responsibility” — and the change would result in the state’s responsibility becoming the provision of sufficient funding for schools rather than adequate financing being only a goal.

The amendment to the state constitution would mean that Illinois would have to fund 51% of the cost of the state’s education system. To become law, the measure would need 60% of lawmakers to vote “aye” in November.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-District 22) sponsored the education amendment and lobbied for another revision like the current one in 1992, writes Casey Quinlan, reporting for Think Progress.

House Republican education panel members have maintained that the change is unfeasible. Their argument is that the state budget needs to have more flexibility.

But passing the amendment would be a victory for everyone who is attempting to lessen the gaps in funding among Illinois’ school districts. At this time, property taxes account for the majority of public school funding and 34% comes from the state.

NPR recently analyzed the gaps in financing among school districts and used Illinois as its primary example. Chicago Ridge School District received $9,794 in per-student funding in 2013, while Rondout School, which is in one of Chicago’s wealthy suburbs, received $28,639 for each student in the same academic year.

But should the change pass, the ongoing lawsuits based on states’ education funding systems and how much states’ constitutions are requiring to pay for education could make things get complicated.

New York is an example of how difficult fighting over education financing can become. A long legal battle has been in process by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity over whether the state has provided “sound basic education,” which a New York City Appeals Court decided was a high school education that readies students for college and career and allows graduates to “function productively as civil participants.”

Six-hundred school districts in Texas continue to argue that the state legislature has not met its constitutional duty to fund schools.

“If approved by the voters, the state would be required to fund 51 percent of the cost of education,” Madigan said.

Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton), countered that Illinois would have to come up with billions of additional dollars to give to the education system.

Madigan added that the legislature would manage the change by relying on property taxes, but Rep. Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford) said the challenge would be coming up with state funding quickly enough if voters approve the amendment, reports Sarah Mueller of WUIS Public Radio.

“Do you think it would be more difficult than the situation we’re in today,” Madigan said.

“If we were required to double the educational funding, I would argue that it would put us in a much more difficult situation,” Sosnowski replied.

Speaker Madigan continued by explaining that the state must provide more support for education. It is the state’s responsibility to provide a quality education in a non-discriminatory, equal opportunity manner.

Wednesday
04 20, 2016
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