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Illinois Votes Record Tax Increases To Support School Improvement

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Springfield, Ill.--The Illinois General Assembly has approved, and Gov. James R. Thompson has signed, a record $963-million increase in income and sales taxes designed to bolster funding for education and other vital state services.

By the narrowest of margins, the legislature sent to the Governor a tax plan scaled back considerably from the $1.5 billion Mr. Thompson proposed six months ago. With no votes to spare, the Senate completed action on the package less than two hours before a revision to the state Constitution went into effect, raising the number of votes needed for passage of legislation from a simple majority to a three-fifths majority. The House, where the final tax proposal was fashioned by the Republican minority, had earlier approved the plan with three extra votes.

Before winding up their spring session, lawmakers also enacted a mandatory collective-bargaining bill for teachers, passed a $90-million property-tax increase for the Chicago school district, approved bills toughening graduation requirements, passed legislation easing the way for school-district consolidation, and initiated several programs to reward exceptional teachers and students.

But it was the tax question that occupied legislators' attention since January, when the Republican Governor unveiled a scheme to boost individual income taxes permanently by 60 percent and corporate levies by 40 percent.

The Governor compromised on that plan twice in an unsuccessful effort to sway the Senate, particularly the Senate minority leader and reluctant sponsor of the tax package, James Philip.

But even the compromise plan--yielding less revenue for a shorter duration--was undercut in mid-June when House Minority Leader Lee Daniels offered an alternative plan, an 18-month income-tax increase producing $870 million.

With all four legislative leaders finally and publicly acknowledging the need for increased state revenue, Governor Thompson summoned them to a series of summit meetings at the executive mansion to craft a compromise plan acceptable to all.

The day before the scheduled end of the spring session, the group finally agreed to a new plan adding a permanent one-cent increase in the sales tax to the 18-month, 20-percent hike in individual and corporate income taxes. With some tax relief factored in, the new package is supposed to generate $963 million in new revenue.

Among the beneficiaries of the tax in-crease is elementary and secondary education, which received a 1984 budget of $2.13-billion. That marked an increase of $31-million over last year's appropriation but $131 million more than actual 1983 spending. And if no tax increase had passed, Mr. Thompson had vowed to chop another $100 million from the 1983 spending level.

Included in the fiscal 1984 budget are:

$1.4 billion for general state aid, up $55-million from 1983 spending.

$375 million to reimburse local districts for mandated categorical programs such as special education, transportation, and school-meal programs at 92 cents on the dollar. That is an increase of $23 million.

$82.4 million, up about $8 million, for other categorical programs such as adult, gifted, bilingual, and vocational education.

The Chicago school district would receive $489.9 million in state aid under the budget sent to the Governor, $21.3 million more than last year.

The district also could benefit from a property-tax hike approved by the legislature and already signed by Mr. Thompson. Pushed by a coalition of black Chicago lawmakers and Republicans and fought by white legislators representing the city's regular Democratic organization, the 50-cent increase would generate $90 million for the financially troubled district. Approval of both the Chicago school board and the city council is needed to implement the tax boost.

Chicago school officials have projected a $200-million deficit for the upcoming year without revenue from the tax increases approved by the General Assembly. State law prohibits the schools from opening in the fall without a balanced budget.

Also sent to the Governor was legislation to:

Give teachers collective-bargaining rights. Under separate bills approved by the Assembly, school boards would be required to bargain with teachers' elected agents, and teachers would be able to strike under specified conditions. The legislation also spells out recognition and arbitration procedures and contains provisions for "fair-share" payments to the union locals by teachers who refuse to join the organizations.

Write into statute stricter graduation requirements. High-school students would be required to "successfully complete" three years of language arts, two years of mathematics (including computer science), two years of social studies, a year of science, and a year of coursework chosen from music, art, a foreign language, or vocational education.

Establish a state-level commission on educational excellence to study curriculum, mandates, and other reforms. Its report is due in the fall of 1984.

Provide a variety of financial incentives for gifted students and teachers. The largest appropriation for a new initiative will be $1 million earmarked for an "Education for Technology Employment Program" designed to bolster vocational skills in fast-developing technological disciplines.

Another $800,000 has been set aside for summer institutes for gifted youngsters, paying their tuition and expenses to workshops and camps in university settings where they will have intensive courses in math and science.

A master-teacher program, rewarding exceptional teachers with extra stipends, is to begin this year with $637,500 in the state board of education's budget. Another $75,000 will go to pay substitutes enabling master teachers to teach other teachers, and $25,000 is to be used for scholarships to upgrade teachers' skills in math and science.

Remove financial barriers to school-district consolidation.

Require school systems to give divorced parents equal access to their children's school records, regardless of which parent has custody. The only exceptions would be to observe court orders to the contrary.

The legislature rejected bills to:

Change the Illinois truancy law. (See Education Week, April 20, 1983.)

Allow school districts facing financial peril to adopt a four-day school week. Opponents were concerned teachers would receive five days' pay for four days' work.

Permit state reimbursement for a full-day kindergarten. Proponents argued that full-day kindergarten could be beneficial to some students and working parents. Opponents contended the state could not afford the added reimbursements and many children would not profit from the added time in school.

Give the state board authority to institute rules and regulations governing school desegregation. The Illinois Supreme Court stripped the board of its authority to enforce desegregation guidelines last year, ruling that neither the state's constitution nor its statutes gave the board such power.

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