School inequity: Does education quality depend on where you live - FOX 10 News | myfoxphoenix.com

School inequity: Does education quality depend on where you live?

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The wide range of needs in different schools, and even within schools, makes it tough to reach a consensus on how to improve education.

Other hurdles are built into the American DNA.

We respect everyone but we will fight for our own kids, our own families, and our own neighborhoods.

It's homework time at the Hauser household in Wilmette.

Fourteen-year-old Isabelle is an eighth grader at Wilmette Junior High and 15-year-old Olivia is a freshman at New Trier High School, both among the best performing schools in the state.

Their parents are paying plenty for those good schools via a hefty property tax bill yet Jasmine Hauser says it's an investment many North Shore families are willing to pay.

"It's not a good public policy to yank away from people who have moved to this community, who have sacrificed and invested to come here specifically for the schools. People who have said, you know what, we want our money to go toward the schools, and this works for us," Hauser said.

That’s one reason the political battle over school funding has been such a tough fight in Springfield even as most recognize the drastic inequities in per-student spending.

Education funding may sound like a dry topic, but listen to this: a child growing up here in Chicago is getting a public schools education that costs about $13,000 a year.

But walk across the street, the dividing line between Chicago and Niles, and something amazing happens. In Niles, a child is getting an education worth $18,000 and if they’re in high school, the cost of education jumps to more than $22,000. Many education experts say the inequity between that side and this is potentially disastrous for the state of Illinois.

"Do we really think that those two children have different needs? It's not fair and it doesn't work," said Sarah Duncan, co-director of the University of Chicago’s Network for College Success.

"These are really all of our children. And we need them all to be successful. But we're not really setting all of them up for success," she said.

Duncan and others believe the way we pay for schools in Illinois is fundamentally flawed.

The vast majority of school funding comes from property taxes which vary wildly between the haves and the have nots.

“We have about the most inequitable school funding system in the country,” said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Montgomery says a better way to pay for schools is to do it through Springfield which currently provides only about a quarter of statewide funding.

"We need the political will from a lot of people, from both Democrats and Republicans, to put more money and more equitable resources into schools," Montgomery said.

But some conservatives, like Ted Dabrowski of the Illinois Policy Institute, argue that residents in wealthy areas are already providing the bulk of the state school funding for poorer districts, through their schools, like New Trier, get little of that state money.

"We've been throwing more money at this thing for decades and we've been getting worse and worse results," Dabrowski said. "The more you put money at the Springfield level and give it to Mike Madigan and team, the more you don't know how that money is being spent."

Skepticism about the politics of Springfield is so big, even by supporters of massive school funding reform take pause like Elgin Unit School District 46 Chief of Staff Tony Sanders.

"It's time to blow up the general state aid formula and look at it from a fresh perspective," Sanders said.

He favors the rewriting of Illinois's school funding rules, but says in a State Capitol dominated by Chicagoans, his district might not benefit.

"Chicago is not treated the same as all other school districts in the area of school funding. The state funding formula intentionally gives money to the Chicago Public Schools beyond what other Downstate districts receive," Sanders said.

Gery Chicago, the chair of the state board of education and the former head of Chicago's school board, endorses the idea of rewriting the funding formula.

“You put your money where there's less wealth and there's more poverty and there's more to overcome by that student,” Chico said.

But he, too, swings a double-edge sword. He says money is not the most important factor in student success.

"If you wanted to put me on the spot right now and ask me what the most important thing is, it's parental engagement," Chico said.

The final political factor in all this is at street level. Can people who are relatively wealthy -- who may be called rich, but certainly don't feel it -- be convinced they should pay more in taxes to help underfunded district when their own schools will likely lose dollars in the deal?

"I'd rather have it simplified, the formula for school funding. Localize it, here closer to our home where we can hold out school officials accountable. And then verify. Verify where the money is going. Is it following the student," Hauser said.

With slow-going at the statehouse, supporters of school funding equity started a parallel effort in the courts. They sued the state of Illinois – a civil rights lawsuit.

It claims Illinois’ unequal funding of schools is so unfair to African-American and Latino students, it’s equal to discrimination.

The courts are slow-going too. The case was filed six years ago. It’s still pending.

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