Madison - St. Clair Record

Friday, August 23, 2019

McCarter: SB1 is boon to elites and crumbs for downstate schools; Progressive tax system is real motivation

By Ann Maher | Aug 10, 2017

The real motivation behind "evidence-based" funding of schools as proposed in Senate Bill 1 is to achieve a progressive income tax system in Illinois, according to State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon).

McCarter attended town hall meetings in Sandoval and Vandalia in his 54th Senate District on Tuesday where he said panels of school superintendents explained the bill's funding formula, but he took to Facebook on Wednesday to deconstruct those explanations.

He described "third party brokers," such as Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, Advance Illinois, Educators for Excellence, along with the "educational elite" who want to preserve their pay, as the main drivers of SB1. Yet, he said the measure does nothing to equitably fund schools. McCarter said the approximately 20 groups supporting the bill depend on taxpayers giving more money to government so they can raise more money with a promise of doing more good things for children.

McCarter said SB1 is nothing more than a bailout of Chicago Public Schools at the expense of downstate taxpayers and schools, and comes at a price of $3.5 billion.

He said that some of the groups who are now on board with SB1 used to fight for school consolidation, but when promised more money they changed their minds.

"The only way they grow is if government grows," he said.

McCarter said that most people think evidence-based funding is about "evidence" and student performance results.

"No, it's about giving kids more counselors, having fewer children in classrooms...making education bigger in Illinois," he said. "This is not based on results, it's based on how we fund them."

In an unusual session scheduled this Sunday, Senators will head back to Springfield to take action on Gov. Bruce Rauner's amendatory veto of the school funding overhaul bill.

Comparing per-student funding at six schools in his district to the per-student funding at Chicago public schools, McCarter said there would "never" be funding equity under the current proposal. Using a hand-drawn graph to make his point, he said it would take 75 years for a school in Germantown, which spends $6,769 per student, just to get to Chicago's current spending level of $15,678 per student.

Under SB1, McCarter said, Germantown will get an additional $75 per student and Chicago will get an additional $146 per student.

"Chicago will always get more," he said. "It doesn't matter what it should cost, they are going to get more. I submit to you that money is not the solution to education problems."

He said this "high priced learning" ignores all of the cultural problems that cause children to fail in school, such as lack of parental involvement and lack of at-home understanding between right and wrong.

Germantown's "award-winning" school delivers results with the least amount of funding, he said.

He said that all children should be equally important, but SB1 does not provide equity or fairness.  

McCarter said the Chicago Public School system is squarely to blame for its financial probblems. He said that in 1995 CPS chose to opt out of state funding of its teacher pension system, which in exchange it would receive incentives such as block grants from the state.

"But they never fully funded," he said. "They quit paying and now are having to borrow....and now they want to be with us."

"It's not our fault they failed to make payments," he said.

McCarter said many of the people in the townhall audiences didn't think the funding formula made sense either, but the "bureaucratic elites" tried to convince them otherwise.

He said he told people at both meetings that they should not have to settle for "crumbs" under duress because schools are about to open.

People want to talk about consolidation, he said, while school superintendents want to talk about "how we needed this fairness."

For instance, Sandoval School District 501, which McCarter says has 485 students, spends $350 per student on its superintendent, Dr. Jennifer Garrison. Under SB1, Sandoval would get an additional $383 per student, he said, but would still receive about $6,000 less per student than Chicago.

"The superintendent was leading the meeting talking about how we needed this fairness...a school district with 485 kids. After the meeting all the parents wanted to talk about was consolidation. Nothing in SB1 talks about consolidation or mandate relief."

He acknowledged that one of the hardest things to do is "kill" a school mascot.

Within his legislative district, he said there are school districts with 58, 78, 120, 157, 166 and 189 students.

"We need consolidation, and we need it now...for the sake of the opportunity for kids we need consolidation," he said, especially in course offerings for high school students.

"You're never going to convince me that in a district with 150 students you need a superintendent. If a principal isn't adequate to take care of things, something is wrong."  

McCarter said he had not been invited to the townhalls, but had been made aware of them from a person within the education system who is pursuing a doctoral degree.

"Basically, he pays me a compliment...that I can do a good job as ambassador to Kenya, but that I don't know enough about education to make this decision," he said.

"Facts are stubborn don't have to have a doctorate in education to know that (downstate) school districts are getting a raw deal. I don't need a doctorate to figure it out and neither do you."

He said that Rauner's amendatory veto of SB1 is a better way forward.

"Evidence-based funding is nothing but a ploy to get more tax put billions in education without the requirement that we get results, without a requirement that we see changes in outcomes of kids. The only outcome will be new facilities and more teachers...and assurance that their jobs will be there for decades to come."

To his critics from the education sector, McCarter said: "I am not elected to defend the educated elites. I'm elected to defend the people and the people that have children in these schools...and they deserve justice. They deserve to be left alone, for one. They need mandate relief. They need the ability to consolidate if they feel that is best."

He said he had a "eureka" moment following the townhalls: that if the $3.5 billion education spending plan goes forward - through an override of Rauner's amendatory veto - a progressive income tax that will take more from "those who succeed" will be rolled out as a means to pay for it.

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Illinois General Assembly Illinois State Senator Kyle McCarter Senate President John J. Cullerton