Public education in Illinois is broken
This analysis of Illinois funding for public education, published in 1966, shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“One year ago, Gov. Otto Kerner of Illinois set up a 56-member task force to study education in Illinois and to propose policies to upgrade the weaker schools. The chairman of the task force, Prof. William P. McLure of the University of Illinois, reported back that two-thirds of the schools are giving ‘substandard’ education.
“ ‘We have some of the best financed and best organized schools in the world,’ McLure declared, ‘and some that are below the level of the average in Mississippi.’
“Since then, no major improvements have been launched — except that the superintendent of public instruction has now emblazoned in red on all his official envelopes: ‘Quality Education for All Youth Is Our Goal.’
“Ray Page, the Illinois superintendent, reveals the low standard of public schools in a report for 1962-63. It shows astounding differences among the districts. The report lists the districts in four groups by type and size. A study of the 70 poorest districts — if we take the lowest 5 percent of each group — shows that they are distributed among 36 of the 102 counties. Forty of the 70 are found in ‘Little Egypt,’ the poor and underdeveloped area in southern Illinois.
“Startling contrasts of riches and poverty are found side by side. The richest and the poorest are in Massac County. Maple Grove Elementary district had an assessed valuation of $400,981 per Average Daily Attendance pupil in 1962-63. Nearby is the 12-grade Brookport Unit District with a valuation of only $3,795 per ADA pupil. Maple Grove gets its wealth from the huge electric plant built a few years ago to serve the uranium plant across the Ohio in Kentucky. To nearby Brookport, the plant could as well be located in Georgia. Just west of Massac is Pulaski County, with eight of the poorest districts. They, too, can only be envious of the Maple Grove District. . . .
“In 1965 the General Assembly revised the state-aid formula but made no change in the system. The formula guarantees each district a foundation level of $330 per ADA pupil. Each district is allocated a flat grant of $47 per pupil, plus an equalization grant if the district qualifies. . . . This program, however, does not equalize education because the foundation level is hundreds of dollars below an adequate education. It merely distributes funds to help the poorest districts offer a minimum education. . . .
“Reformers advocate a flexible program designed to attain both quality and equality in education. Such a program would provide education equal to the best for every school district. The equalization formula must help the poor districts match the high quality that is set for every district in the state. There must be a sharing of costs. The state must set an incentive to spur local tax effort. The local district must be guaranteed an adequate level of support, but only on condition that it make a tax effort up to a reasonable limit. At present four states – Delaware, Rhode Island, New York, and Wisconsin – have adopted this principle. . . .
“A proposal for equalized education was introduced into the 1965 General Assembly but failed to win strong support. Opponents had a question that the reformers could not answer: ‘Where is the money coming from?’ Obviously, as long as Illinois is hard-pressed for revenue it cannot triple its school aid. Illinois must find new sources of revenue before it can reform its educational system.” – Floyd Mulkey
Mulkey was an editor with the New Standard Encyclopedia when his article, “Illinois Education: The System Must Go,” was published in the September-October 1966 edition of FOCUS/Midwest.