Duncan urges income tax hike

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • September 19, 2008 @ 9:17 AM

Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan told state legislators yesterday that a “modest income tax hike” should be considered so that school funding can be increased.

“Keep it simple,“ Duncan said at a hearing in Oak Park convened by the Illinois House of Representatives Elementary & Secondary Education Committee. “We cannot solve every problem facing the state with a single new revenue source. Focus first on education and capital -- kids and jobs. Once we address these issues, Illinois can tackle other issues.“

The amount of educational funding from the state has been a constant issue this year. It led to a week-long boycott of city schools by the Save Our Schools Now group, led by the Rev. James Meeks and 50 other pastors on the South and West Side. CPS officials and busloads of students have appeared in front of legislators in Springfield.

Meeks wants a funding plan that is not tied to local property taxes, and cites suburban school districts such as New Trier in Winnetka where the funding per student is $7,000 more than it is in Chicago ($17,000 to Chicago’s $10,000). He has met with Gov. Rod Blaglojevich several times, including at the Democratic National Convention last month, in an attempt to push education funding reform.

Duncan is not in favor of raising property taxes, sales taxes or tying educational funding to lotteries or gaming, as it is in some other states, including Michigan. For the first time since 1999, CPS did not ask for a property tax hike this year.

“The only honest way to provide property tax relief is to increase state funding so that school districts have less pressure to raise local property taxes,“ Duncan says.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley says lawmakers should make educational funding a “top priority.“

“We have to have a financing answer statewide, not just Chicago, but statewide,“ Daley said earlier this week at a news conference at E.F. Young Elementary School. “The highest priority is education. Everything else should fall under that.”

The Chicago Board of Education approved a record $6.15 billion budget last month for the 2008-09 school year, including $100 million in reserves it is using to fund teacher salary increases and pension fund increases.

For the fourth consecutive year, CPS received zero money from the state for capital expenditures. The district has budgeted $1 billion for capital spending, including repairs, expansions and new school construction when it needs more than $4 billion for projects, according to Heather Oboroa, CPS chief purchasing officer.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.