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Ill. Voters To Decide Finance Adequacy Without Guidance From the Legislature

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Illinois voters are set to decide in November whether the state guarantees students an adequate education. But, after lawmakers adjourned their legislative session this summer, the voters will have to make that decision without much guidance about what would be required to provide such schooling.

A general definition of educational adequacy drafted by the state board of education and endorsed by a special school-finance task force died in the legislature last month. The definition was inserted at the last minute in an unrelated, noncontroversial school-consolidation bill, but that measure was then voted down.

The two-paragraph statement identified course offerings, instructional time, class size, support programs, and overall funding as key ingredients of an adequate education. Further, the language said that state funding for such schooling should be based on those factors and sensitive to extra burdens in low-income areas, regional costs, and differing grade-level needs.

Observers said the defeat of the adequacy definition reflected many lawmakers' concerns about the level of new funding that the constitutional amendment would require.

The fate of the proposal also illustrates the difficulty of defining educational adequacy, which some reformers say should become a major new goal of the school-finance-reform movement. (See Education Week, June 17, 1992.)

Concerns Over Costs

Supporters of the constitutional amendment have estimated that it would require school-finance reforms costing $1.8 billion annually in new funding. But opponents warn that the cost may be $3 billion or more and require higher taxes.

"What killed the bill wasn't so much what the adequacy language said, but its place in the larger political context,'' said Greg Richmond, an aide to the Senate Education Committee.

Other officials said they were not surprised by the legislature's reluctance to address the adequacy issue, noting that many state leaders want a clear signal from voters before taking a stand on the costly school-funding issue.

Backers of school-finance reforms in Illinois will now wait until after the November election before determining the next step in their effort to reduce some of the nation's greatest disparities between wealthy and poor school districts.

In 1989-90, per-pupil spending ranged from $2,468 in a Peoria County elementary-school district to $14,315 in a LaSalle County high-school district, state officials said.

After examining school-finance inequities for two years, the task force recently issued its recommendations. In determining the essential ingredients for an adequate education, the panel said school districts should be spending about $4,000 per student. The group also recommended the constitutional amendment, which is designed to shift greater funding authority to the state.

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