Illinois Board, Education Groups Ready for Tax-Increase Struggle

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Springfield, Ill--Illinois public schools are being shortchanged, and the quality of education will continue to decline without additional funds, the chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education has warned.

In an unusually strong statement, Walter W. Naumer voiced many of the concerns troubling educators in many states as they confront both calls for educational reforms and resistance to new funding to finance them. Mr. Naumer's statement apparently signals the opening of a campaign to seek extension of a temporary income-tax increase passed this year that is due to expire next June. Leading education interest groups are already lining up to lobby legislators in the forthcoming session for an extension.

"I think what the state board is trying to do is set up local school dis-tricts to make enough noise to prompt the Governor to push for renewal of the income-tax increase," said Harold Seamon, director of the Illinois Association of School Boards. He said his group will be in the vanguard of the fight to renew the one-year, 20-percent income-tax hike that is expected to raise about $760 million this year.

"Otherwise," Mr. Seamon said, "it will be a status quo year, or some slippage backward."

John Ryor, executive director of the Illinois Education Association, said his organization also will push to extend the tax increase. "You don't have to be an expert in school finance to realize the strain local districts are under," he said.

Gov. James R. Thompson has buttressed the view that schools may not get funding increases next year, although he contends it is too early to commit to extending the temporary tax increase.

"The numbers cause me a lot of concern," the Governor said after a briefing by budget aides recently. Through November, Mr. Thompson reported, income-tax collections were $50 million shy of projections. Should that trend continue and the tax increase expire, he suggested, schools could face a decline from the $2.1 billion the state is spending for this fiscal year.

But he predicted that any effort to renew the tax boost would be "stoutly resisted" in the legislature.

Republican Resistance

Resistance appears particularly likely from the House Republican leadership, which was instrumental in scaling down tax-increase proposals last June.

"Our position was and is, we passed it as a temporary tax and we have no intention of making it permanent," said state Representative Gene Hoffman, a Republican leader.

He said the education establishment faces a challenge in "convincing the general public that more money will improve the quality of education. A lot of people don't believe that."

Even lawmakers in the Democratic majority are wary of continuing the tax increase. Rep. Terry Steczo of Chicago said many legislators would be willing to let schools slip by with a "minimal increase" in fiscal 1985, banking on growing prosperity to increase funding in the future.

Proponents of the tax increase may do better in the state Senate, where Arthur Berman, chairman of the education committee, noted that the improvement in the Illinois economy "does not appear to be sufficient to offset the phase-out of the tax period. If that situation persists in June, then we'll need to seriously consider an extention."

According to Mr. Naumer, much of the strain experienced by districts is the product of slippage from past years. "The time is past due for us to become righteously indignant and demand for our children that which our parents provided for us. Valid excuses for failure to provide adequate resources for education have all but vanished," the board chairman said.

Mr. Naumer complained that the public schools' share of total state spending has dropped from 29.6 percent in 1977 to 24 percent this year. And he noted that the annual increases in state spending for elementary and secondary education have not kept pace with the total increase in state appropriations.

"Based on the record of funds Illinois has provided for the education of its children, no one can say that the state has been guilty of throwing money at educational problems. During a period when the increasing difficulties of public education were becoming most apparent, the State of Illinois was retreating from paying its legitimate share of the costs of education," Mr. Naumer said. Despite the "tremendous effort" of the state board in helping win the temporary tax increase, Mr. Naumer said, "I regretfully have to note it was truly a hollow victory for the schoolchildren of our state."

He noted that many national and state leaders have suggested reforms, including higher teacher pay to lure better qualified candidates into the profession and special pay plans to reward those who excel, more days and hours in school, and an increased role for the principal as the instructional leader of the school. But, he said, those reforms cannot take place without "substantial amounts of money."

Mr. Ryor blamed President Reagan for making it "fashionable to politicize education issues. We've gotten to the point where political people talk about how bad things are but are not willing to acknowledge that you can't cure those problems without additional revenue. "We find that approach about as helpful as a back pocket on a shirt," Mr. Ryor said.

Vol. 03, Issue 14

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