State Constitution Fuels ‘Tax Swap’ Debates

Published July 1, 2005

The Illinois State Constitution has been the source of arguments over school funding in Illinois for decades.

Proponents of increased state funding of public education base their position on language inserted into the 1970 Illinois constitution that gave the state “the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.” Tax swap advocates argue that language means the state must provide at least 51 percent of net education funding.

Opponents point to case law that concluded the language is hortatory and ambiguous, and thus does not require a specific funding formula.

Proponents have argued that without state funding, public education in Illinois is fundamentally unequal because districts rich in property tax money can afford to pay more per student. They note Illinois is one of the wealthiest states but ranks 49th in state support of K-12 public education.

Opponents respond that Illinois ranks 11th in overall school spending, putting it 20 percent above the national average. They also argue more money does not necessarily produce better schools, saying how money is spent is more important than how much is spent.

Illinois sends only about 60 cents of each education dollar to the classroom, they observe.

— Dennis Byrne