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The great divide

Wednesday, Jan 22, 2014

* The Daily Herald looks at the vast disparity in suburban school property taxes

The gap between the top and bottom suburban districts is vast. On one end of the spectrum is Rondout Elementary District 72 in Lake Forest, which will collect $30,381 in property taxes per student this year. On the opposite end is East Aurora Unit District 131, which has a property tax collection level of $2,816 per student, according to district budget documents submitted to the state.

“The main reason for the huge differences has to do with property tax wealth,” said Larry Joseph, director of fiscal policy at Chicago-based Voices for Illinois Children. “The heavy reliance on property taxes to fund schools combined with the weak support from the state just makes for very large fiscal disparities.”


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Bill White - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 11:31 am:

    I have mixed feelings about this.

    Yes, there is disparity but Michigan moving away from property taxes a few decades ago has now given Governor Snyder and the MI GOP the ability to slash ALL education funding.

    I would like to see increased state aid to less wealthy districts but I also am nervous about transferring control over all education funding to Springfield.

  2. - OneMan - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 11:35 am:

    This actually plays a bit into one of the Ruaner comments that some kids are not our problem…

    It would be interesting to see how people would react if their district had to merge with other nearby poorer districts. So if the Naperville and Oswego districts that touch the East Aurora had to merge into one superdistrict as it were…

  3. - medium rare - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 11:56 am:

    Yes, we definitely need to look at changing how we fund schools in this state. Current system is not working. This is a very good article.

  4. - Pete - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:01 pm:

    How about the school districts follow the state house districts?

  5. - Downstate GOP voter - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:03 pm:

    I fully agree that the value of property in a school district is an important factor in setting property tax rates. However, Rondout Elementary District 72 is an elementary school district and East Aurora Unit District 131 is a unit school district. These two type of school districts have different cost structures which in turn requires different revenues.

    First, unit and elementary districts pay their staff, mainly teachers, differently and other educational expenses at the two types of school districts are also different. For example, few if any elementary districts have football stadiums or chemistry labs.

    Second, Rondout Elementary District 72, as with any elementary district, ‘feeds’ its students to a secondary school district in the same community. The existence of two overlaying school districts implies that there are two sets of overheads, for example two boards of education and pay for two superintendents, that will also impact the cost structures of and elementary district vs a unit district.

    I think that a better comparison would be between two elementary districts or between two unit districts.

  6. - Carl Nyberg - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:04 pm:

    Then there’s the example of Proviso Township High Schools that has a strong property tax base and is well funded and the test scores suck.

    Which has stronger correlation to student test scores?

    a. good property tax base
    b. high per pupil spending
    c. student income level
    d. demographics

    My take looking through the scores was as follows:

    If the district spent in the top third and the White plus Asian was over 90% the school district had high test scores.

    If the district had Black plus Latino over 90%, the school district had low scores, no matter what.

    A couple districts deserved positive recognition. Evanston Township High School was the only district where the percent of students who didn’t meet standards was lower than the % of students who qualified for free and reduced lunch.

    Also, Elmwood Park HS had a high percentage of Latino students of moderate income level, but a high rate of students being at or above standards.

  7. - Ghost - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:09 pm:

    There is no fix. short answer, if you homogenized all property tax money for schools, you would still have schools where individuals donated money to the school so the school was better funded.

    I do think they should implement more of a flat fee either per persone or per household for schools, divide that money up equally, and if individuals want to contribute to a school so be it. uniform public funding and then whatever the schools can capture on their own.

  8. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:11 pm:

    ===There is no fix. short answer, if you homogenized all property tax money for schools, you would still have schools where individuals donated money to the school so the school was better funded.===

    That’s not really a valid argument for why there is “no fix” for this.

  9. - Carl Nyberg - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:14 pm:

    What would a “fixed” public education system look like?

    These conversations pretend that what we want in public education is self evident.

    OK. Here’s my challenge.

    Explain what a quality public education system would look like in Illinois.

  10. - MrJM - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:14 pm:

    I miss Dawn Clark Netsch…

    – MrJM

  11. - anonxx - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:21 pm:

    If we move away from local funding and toward a statewide approach to raising and distributing education funding, more tax dollars from the Chicago area will be sent downstate to support schools. Is this the right approach or the wrong approach, I don’t know.

  12. - Ghost - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:25 pm:

    let me rephrase :) There is a fix to the property tax disparity. you can equalize, and we should equalize, the money given to each school to operate per student.

    That will not however change the exitsance of better funded schools, it will just change the source of how the money is directed to the schools. You can better fund all schools, and come up with a system that provides every school the same amount of public tax dollars, which we should. But at the end of the day there will still be school with a lot better funding based on the abilty of individuals with more liquid assets to direct additional resoruces and money to schools of their choice.

  13. - Wensicia - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:26 pm:

    It’s even harder to understand this inequality when some of the wealthiest districts are fewer than 10 miles away from some of the poorest, like Lake Forest and Highland Park are to North Chicago and Waukegan.

  14. - medium rare - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:30 pm:

    “Explain what a quality public education system would look like in Illinois”

    very challenging to do, Nyburg. You’re right.

    Look, I think we can agree that there will be no perfect solutions to public school funding in Illinois…..however, that does not preclude us from striving to do better than we are currently.

  15. - Hit or Miss - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:37 pm:

    I just checked the ISBE report card data for 2013. This is for 2013, the most recent data online for Rondout Elementary District 72 and East Aurora Unit District 13.

    According to the ISBE Rondout spends $25,189 per year per student and has only 158 students in the district. East Aurora spends $10,292 per student per year and has 14,758 students in the district.

    The State of Illinois funds just over $900 per student per year of the cost in Rondout and about $6450 per student per year of the cost in East Aurora.

    The question in my mind is not why the property tax collections are so different by why is the State of Illinois funding such different amounts. What factor or factors can cause this more than 6:1 difference?

  16. - k3 - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:37 pm:

    I would like a quality public education system that prepared our kids for what is after school. I don’t think test scores matter. Can you help my kid be ready for college and even after by teaching critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration? Or teach the same thing and prepare them to enter the trades? That’s obviously not being done now, and is funding really the answer? Maybe it’s about re-prioritization.

  17. - Under Influenced - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:58 pm:

    Senate has a committee that has been holding hearings on ed funding:

  18. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 1:01 pm:

    ==The question in my mind is not why the property tax collections are so different by why is the State of Illinois funding such different amounts.==

    The more local wealth you have the less you get from the state. Why wouldn’t that be the case? Why are you going to give a locally wealthy district the same amount of money from the state as a district with little local tax base???

  19. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 1:04 pm:

    Even the most altruistic parents in the better funded districts seem highly unlikely to say: “Yes, please give my children’s school less money”.

    It means giving some of the underfunded schools more funding, which is a good thing.

    It also means involuntarily taking a dollar from their child’s education and giving it to someone else, which suddenly becomes quite a personal thing.

  20. - Ghost - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 1:13 pm:

    lets create a funding source for education, maybe something connected to gambling…lets legalize the numbers racket and have the State run it. We will then committ the money to education. But then lets sell that enterprise to an outsider for quick cash, and cap the money for education so that over time we reduce what we provide education.

  21. - lakecounty - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 1:17 pm:

    - Hit or Miss - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 12:37 pm:
    Note that Illinois has a foundation level of funding that is dependent on a school’s poverty rate, etc. Higher need schools receive higher amounts of foundation funding, while schools with high property tax receipts receive less. Funding for the foundation level comes from Illinois taxes (not property taxes). This link will provide you with an explanation:
    Illinois has not completely funded to the recommended foundation level since 2002. This year recommended funding was $8,672 vs actual of $6119 for high poverty schools. Kinda like the pensions, oh well, so what else is new.

  22. - mythoughtis - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 1:21 pm:

    ==If we move away from local funding and toward a statewide approach to raising and distributing education funding, more tax dollars from the Chicago area will be sent downstate to support schools==

    Given the fact that the people you most likely interact with during your adulthood did not graduate from the district that you pay taxes into during the time you paid taxes, then what’s the problem with that scenario?

    I want my doctors, dentists, nurses, accountants, retail and service clerks, home health care workers, and so forth to be properly educated. Given what I just said, I should expect that some of the money I pay for schools goes somewhere other than my district.

  23. - Bill White - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 1:34 pm:

    I support funding downstate schools (and schools in the less affluent Chicagoland districts) from general state revenues. However, I am less supportive of having all education funding pass through Springfield.

    Full funding of the foundation level @lakecounty refers to would be a place to start.

  24. - Arizona Bob - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 1:36 pm:

    Here’s an idea, though it will never happen.

    Fund the student, not the system.

    Have the state charge a Luxury Tax on districts that are overfunded enough to pay obscene salaries to staff.

    If your staff is paid at state average, you’re OK.

    If you can afford to pay 10% above average in salary and benefits, you pay a percentage of the overage to the state who redistributes it to those paying 10% LESS than state average, indexed to local cost of living, of course.

    In Arizona, we can get up to a $400 tax CREDIT for contributing to a school of our choice. That way the money can go to deserving, TRULY underfunded schools near a community.

    It would be interesting to see if those Lake Forest liberals would give it to their local overfunded schools or to the neediest in the state.

    What do think about doing that in Illinois?

  25. - Arizona Bob - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 1:41 pm:

    Bill, there has to be a criterion other than property value in rural areas to establish fair state funding.

    For example, a rich farming community could well afford to pay suburban levels of funding to education, but they get off easy since the state takes from the burbs to give it downstate schools for them. The money leaves our pockets, and STAYS in theirs unfairly.

    Community net income might be a better way to determine redistribution.

  26. - Formerly Known As... - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 1:53 pm:

    @Ghost @1:13 - Comment of the day.

  27. - Demoralized - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 2:17 pm:

    ==there has to be a criterion other than property value in rural areas to establish fair state funding==

    Funding comes from property taxes so I’m not sure how anything other than property values would be a relevant measure.

    ==The money leaves our pockets, and STAYS in theirs unfairly.==

    You could make that argument for anything where taxes are concerned. Are you advocating that your area always gets back what they pay in state taxes? Taxes are inherently redistributive because they are used by the state for the ENTIRE state.

  28. - Confused - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 2:18 pm:

    Living in Highland Park, I want to throw my support behind any effort to make my property tax more equitable. How about we just let me pay the average assessment across the state?

  29. - Upon Further Review - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 2:19 pm:

    Evanston spends large amounts of money on each pupil, but the disparity in test scores and grade point averages continues to defy efforts to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor kids. The honors program at ETHS was under attack for being too white.

  30. - Judgment Day - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 3:03 pm:

    Following observations:

    First: “Schools funded primarily from local property taxes, under administration from State of Illinois”.

    Ok, but you’re already halfway there, and from the posts, it’s pretty clear nobody’s really impressed by the results. All local property taxation power comes from the State of Illinois (See Property Tax Code of 1993, as Amended), and things work - eventually, kinda, sorta, maybe, sometimes - you get the drift.

    You really sure you want to give the State MORE control over the process? IL DOR is already buried, as if Property Tax Appeal Board. Now multiply than 102 times over (102 = # of IL Counties).

    We already have a local property tax environment where we have active Township involvement (Assessors), tax district(s) involvement (levies, bonds, etc.); County involvement (Assessor/Chief Co. Assessment Officials; County Clerks, and County Treasurers); outside vendors who provide data processing services that are virtually all legacy Windows 32 bit client-server software that is all customized, and is on the verge of becoming obsolete, with a number of different reporting processes (wonderfully complex) to IL DOR at different point in the process, all before the locals can get tax bills printed and out.

    IMO, it’s a miracle it works at all.

    So, before you decide to ‘reform’ the local property tax system even more, you might want to learn a lesson from ACA before you start - things can get worse.

    Just a thought.

  31. - lakecounty - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 8:16 pm:

    - Arizona Bob - Wednesday, Jan 22, 14 @ 1:41 pm:
    “It would be interesting to see if those Lake Forest liberals would give it to their local overfunded schools or to the neediest in the state.”

    If you were from Illinois or living in Lake County you would know there are very few liberals in Lake Forest!

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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