Of all of the merits to the Fair Tax – structural equality, better responsiveness to the economic realities of our state, and support for our residents most in need of assistance- the most important is that it will allow the State of Illinois to fulfill its constitutional obligation to adequately fund education for all students in every district. In 2017, the State implemented a historic and long-overdue school funding reform law called Evidence Based Funding (EBF). This new funding formula will ensure that every student in Illinois receives a baseline level of support, regardless of where they live and what property taxes are like in their community. However the formula will not work if it is not funded and that’s what the Fair Tax represents- 21st century support for 21st century schools.
While all school districts receive some funding from the state, the overwhelming majority of funding each district used was based on local property taxes- this means that students living in communities with lower property values had fewer educational opportunities. However, even when the EBF was passed in 2017 the legislature recognized that fully funding the new model would be critical to ensure its success.
At the beginning of fiscal year 2020, the Illinois State Board of Education found that fully funding the EBF model, and distributing the appropriate resources throughout the state, would have required an additional $6.8 billion beyond what was invested. While subsequent state budgets have increased the EBF contribution, the COVID 19 crisis has thrown state and local budgets into uncertainty and has only increased the existing inequities between districts across the state. Passing the Fair Tax will be a lifeline to our schools and communities by distributing more resources to the school districts that need them most.
Without additional funding from the EBF, it is likely that many districts across Illinois will be forced to make draconian budget cuts leading to teacher and support staff layoffs, larger class sizes, and deferring needed facility and curriculum modernizations. These cuts will devastate students, parents, and communities already reeling from years of underfunding education and a once-in-a-century pandemic.
The Fair Tax will benefit all households in Illinois by creating a progressive income tax structure like the ones already used by the federal government and thirty-two states by asking those who make over $250,000, roughly 3% of the population, to pay slightly more in taxes. Without the Fair Tax, it is unlikely that the state will ever be able to fully fund the EBF and the educational equity it was designed to provide.
The EBF was an enormous achievement that showed Illinois was serious about supporting the education of every child. But without the Fair Tax, the EBF and other critical public services are at risk. The Fair Tax is a tremendous opportunity for us to set Illinois on a path towards fairness and financial stability. When you vote, consider your local school district and what additional funds might mean for your school community.
**Clare McGuire is a co-chair of the Education Committee for the League of Women Voters Chicago.