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Lying to our kids about tooth fairy, Santa and school funding

Belleville News Democrat

Sunday, September 3, 2017  |  Editorial  |  By The Editorial Board

Education Funding (36a) , Governor (44) Madigan, Michael--State House, 22
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner didn’t get everything he wanted. Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan didn’t get everything he wanted.

Neither had the power to force the other to do what they wanted, so they tried something new: They compromised.

Or did they?

Maybe it was more of a Springfield compromise. Rauner doesn’t lose a limb, and Madigan does what Madigan does so beautifully — apply power to extract his will.

Rauner got $75 million in tax credits for scholarships to parochial and private schools. Even that little gain faces a lawsuit threat from the Chicago teacher’s union that, if successful, could unravel the entire school funding bill. Also, Rauner said there’s no money for it, so it gets heaped on the state’s $14.7 billion pile of unpaid bills.

He also got some unfunded mandate relief, allowing schools to petition and get out of some PE and driver’s ed requirements. Plus there is a new provision allowing taxpayers to petition and then vote on property tax reductions if their districts exceed the standards for adequate funding.

All the flap over Chicago getting too much money ended with Chicago getting even more money. The final school funding formula will give Chicago schools $150 million more than they would have gotten under the original bill passed May 31.

Gone is the proposal to count wealth tied up by tax increment financing districts and property tax limit laws. Counting that potential would have cost Chicago big and created a windfall for most of the rest of the state’s schools.

But those are all side issues.

What really happened on Thursday when Rauner signed the revamp of the funding formula for our state’s schools was that fairness won, which meant students won. It may not have been a complete win, but the inequities created by decades of ignoring population shifts and income changes within school districts finally got a fix.

State funding will go where there is a need, and state leaders just promised it would be adequate and more than school have received in the past. Maybe we’ll make that constitutional mandate of being the primary source of school funding and being the nation’s leader in inequality, giving our richest students 20 percent more than our poorest students.

A fix is all to the good, but then this is a state where we like making promises that we have little hope of keeping. Here’s hoping we didn’t just tell our kids a big, fat lie.