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Record Tax Hike Will Boost Illinois School-Aid Plan

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Illinois lawmakers have approved a two-year, 20 percent increase in the state income tax that will channel $363 million in new revenues to the state's public schools.

Over all, the state's precollegiate-education budget will rise by $451 million in the upcoming fiscal year, the largest single-year increase in Illinois history.

Robert Leininger, the interim state superintendent of education, called the legislative session that ended last month "one of the best we've ever had."

The boost in state aid should help restore financial stability in many school districts that have experienced difficulties during several years of much smaller increases, Mr. Leininger said.

The new revenues also will enable the state to "adequately fund" a package of school reforms passed in 1985, he said, including an initiative to more than double the number of children served in early-child4hood-education programs.

"We're going as fast as we can," Mr. Leininger said. "We are steadily increasing programs in a very efficient manner."

Lengthy Effort

Gov. James R. Thompson, a Republican, and the state's leading education groups had pressed for an income-tax increase for several years, but had been blocked by the House's Democratic leadership.

Speaker of the House Michael Madigan proposed the tax plan that was ultimately adopted, but resisted attempts to double the proposed increase and make it permanent.

"The educational community can and should take some credit for the awareness campaign" that helped secure passage of the tax-increase, Mr. Leininger said.

"It's been a long, slow, hard fight," he added. "A lot of us have been wearing football helmets for three years and banging our heads8against the brick wall."

The legislature also passed a measure to provide assistance to districts experiencing severe financial difficulties.

The plan, which was proposed by the state superintendent in response to a request for help from the East St. Louis district, would allow the state to issue bonds to finance loans of up to $1,000 per student in the districts that requested the aid.

In return, the state would appoint three-member panels that would control the districts' spending decisions and would be empowered to raise property taxes to repay the state loans.

Lawmakers also raised the tax on cigarettes to finance drug-education programs and to pay for the restructuring of the state's mathematics and science curriculum. The new curriculum will be based on the recommendations of Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.--ws

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