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Thompson To Back a Tax Hike for Schools

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In a move that could bolster state spending for education, Gov. James R. Thompson of Illinois this month will propose an increase in the state's income-tax rate or announce his support for one of several tax hikes being considered by lawmakers, a spokesman said last week.

"The Governor favors a modest tax increase, the majority of which would go to education,'' said David L. Fields, the Governor's spokesman.

Mr. Thompson will insist that the new revenues be used in part to support reform efforts in Chicago, and that state aid be distributed under a new formula that ensures that districts "with a high level of [local tax] support get something out of it,'' Mr. Fields said.

Last year, the legislature rejected the Governor's call for a tax increase to support public education. His budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year called for $2.8 billion in K-12 education aid, the same amount as this year.

Tax Hike Supported

A recent survey commissioned by the state education department found strong public support for Mr. Thompson's tax and spending plans.

The study, conducted in March by researchers at Sangamon State University in Springfield, found that almost 70 percent of those surveyed would support higher income taxes if the extra funds were used to aid education. Seventy-four percent of the respondents added that they would be likely to vote for a legislator who supported an education-related increase.

Pressure for more education spending was also reflected in a new survey of district officials by the state board of education.

That study found that 87 percent of local school boards expect expenses to exceed revenues this school year. Fifty-four percent said they would have to borrow money and 59 percent said they would lay off teachers to help balance their budgets.

Other cost-cutting moves local officials said were likely include deferring textbook and equipment purchases (68 percent), increasing class sizes (63 percent), and offering fewer courses (38 percent).

The survey also found that 46 percent of the boards said they may ask local residents to approve property-tax increases.

In releasing the results of the study, the state school chief, Ted Sanders, noted that the state's share of public-school funding has dipped below 40 percent.

In a related development, a task force created by Mr. Sanders earlier this year has concluded that eliminating state education-reform mandates would not appreciably improve the financial condition of districts.

Mandates' Effects Debated

"For the most part, state mandates on local school districts have a reasonable purpose and serve the public good,'' the task force noted in its April 21 report.

"Even if the state shredded all of its mandates,'' it continued, "there would be no significant savings. The big-ticket costs--teachers and administrators, buildings, books, and transportation--would continue irrespective of mandates.''

Approximately a quarter of the state's 980 districts have taken preliminary steps toward filing lawsuits charging that the state board has no power to force them to implement the reforms if the legislature fails to pay for them. (See Education Week, March 30, 1988.)--PW

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