The first in a series of town hall meetings hosted by Network 21 gave legislators and concerned citizens the opportunity to voice their opinions on education reform.
Nearly 100 concerned citizens, local mayors, business leaders
and legislators came together on Feb. 10, 2003 to discuss education
reform in Illinois at Network 21's Town Hall Meeting at Bloom Township
High School in Chicago Heights. Civic leaders and legislators, including
Sen. Debbie Halvorson (D-Crete), co-hosted the event and offered their views
on the current economic and educational crisis.
Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago) spoke about the critical
elements of education and education funding reform. Sen. del Valle
urged the people of Illinois to get behind a grassroots movement to support
structural change on taxes and education. He said that both in times
of fiscal crisis and in times of surplus, the argument is
made that it is not the right time to deal with these structural
problems. "When is
the right time to deal
with the structural problem?" del Valle asked. He detailed his education reform bill (SB
23), which addresses the recommendations of the Education Funding Advisory Board to increase
the per-pupil spending foundation level by $1000, as well as an increase in the income tax
coupled with property tax relief. He also spoke candidly about the additional $1.8 billion
needed to fund the bill and the General Assembly's responsibility
for securing those resources.
Ill. Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago) at Network 21's Feb. 10, 2003 Town
Hall meeting on education reform.
Rep. David E. Miller
(D-Dolton) pointed out that an estimated 80 percent of school districts are already
deficit spending. He emphasized the urgency for stakeholders to
wholeheartedly support Sen. del Valle's education funding bill. He
noted the piecemeal legislative approach to fix education over recent years, but
declared that "until we stop putting band-aids on the bullet wounds, we'll still be
in this situation."
of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, said that the problem
was not with excessive spending, because Illinois is a relatively
low-spending state. Instead, Mr. Martire suggested the problem lies on the revenue side of
the equation as Illinois, the eighth wealthiest state in the country, imposes a
very low tax burden on residents. While no one likes to pay taxes, Martire
said, polls have shown that Illinois residents are willing to pay more taxes
for real improvements in education.
Sen. Halvorson pointed out that because education reform is "no longer only a
south suburban issue," the General Assembly would be more likely to take action
this year. Education is funded last in the state budget, she said, resulting
in education simply getting whatever is left. She urged support for SB 1,
sponsored by Sen. Emil Jones (D-Chicago), which calls for a continuing appropriation that would
ensure that education is funded first. She also encouraged those
in the audience to write letters to the editor of their local newspapers to keep
the issue in the news.
Other panelists included Rep. George Scully (D-Flossmoor), Bert Docter
of the Education Funding Advisory Board, Rep. Will Davis (D-Harvey), Kim Collier of
the Consortium for Education Change, and Angela Rudolph of the Chicago Urban League.
Network 21, a coalition of more than 50 organizations, is working to
improve education in Illinois through funding, quality and accountability reforms.
This is the first in a series of town hall meetings hosted by Network 21,
with upcoming events in Elgin and Peoria. Network 21 will continue to coordinate
efforts on these issues through additional participation in Sen. del Valle's
town hall meetings as he "takes (his) show on the road" for SB 23.