How Republican governor candidates plan to fix school funding

Some ideas include doubling superintendents’ workloads, expanding voucher programs

Election 2024
2022 Republican candidates for Illinois governor. Upper from left, Darren Baily, Richard Irvin, Gary Rabine. Lower left, Paul Schimpf, Max Solomon, Jesse Sullivan

Some issues come and go, but how to pay for schools is a dilemma that surfaces perennially in Illinois elections.

Republican candidates for governor recently pitched ideas ranging from doubling superintendents’ workloads to expanding voucher programs in answer to a Daily Herald questionnaire.

State Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, McHenry County business owner Gary Rabine, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo, Hazel Crest attorney Max Solomon, and Petersburg venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan comprise the contenders in the June 28 primary.

In 2017, Illinois switched to an evidence-based school funding system that channels dollars to underfunded districts to bring them up to an “adequacy” target.

The gubernatorial rivals differed in reactions to the evidence-based model.

“Why do we have high schools in one part of the state that look like college campuses and high schools in another part of the state that look like they should be condemned?” Bailey asked.

“The answer is not to throw more money into a flawed system nor is the answer to take local tax money from suburban school districts and rob Peter to pay Paul. We need a complete overhaul of our education system and how it is funded.

Bailey advocates hiring outside experts to recommend solutions.

Irvin called state funding of public education the key to success for everyone in Illinois.

“I’m the product of our public school system. As governor, I’m committed to listening to parents to hear their views on education and the state’s support to public education,” he said.

“The Constitution calls for the state to be the primary funder of education. If that were the case, there would be less pressure on local property taxes,” Irvin added.

He cited running mate state Rep. Avery Bourne as a key figure in funding formula reforms who would “ensure every school district in the state benefits, including suburban and downstate schools.”

The evidence-based model is “an incremental first step in making sure that our schools are funded,” Rabine said, “but it is too early to determine if it is working.”

The goal would be attainable but for “the disaster of the Chicago Public Schools ... and a dysfunctional property tax assessment system in Cook County,” he said.

Rabine wants to lessen the influence of the Chicago Teacher’s Union and reform the Cook assessor’s office.

Sullivan argued that “Illinois has a bloated school district bureaucracy. With more than 850 school districts, we are the only state that spends more than $1 billion a year on district-level administration. This siphons money away from classrooms and teachers, and toward six-figure salaries for duplicative administrators.

“This is not ‘evidence-based’ funding. It’s a political jobs program,” Sullivan said.

Schimpf thinks “our education funding formula can always be improved. Increasing education funding by $350 million per year, as we do under the current funding formula, is not sustainable.

“We need to free up money for the children in classrooms by consolidating administrative positions, (such as) having school districts share superintendents,” Schimpf added.

Several candidates stressed the importance of school choice, which typically involves using state funds to provide vouchers that help parents shift children from public to private schools.

Critics warn vouchers divert money from public schools, but Rabine thinks the state should promote choice. “Our kids should not be locked into a horrible educational environment.”

Sullivan said, “if we do not hold schools accountable for outcomes, more money won’t fix the problem. That is why I believe strongly in funding students, not systems.”

Bailey promised to “work to allow parents to choose which schools to send their children and I will demand accountability from failing schools.”

Solomon did not respond to the Daily Herald’s questionnaire.