It seems like every day for the past couple of weeks The Telegraph has carried a story about a local school district cutting teaching and support positions due to a lack of funding from the state government.
School boards in Alton, Bethalto, Jerseyville, Wood River-Hartford, Edwardsville, Southwestern, and several others, have announced the layoffs because of the backlog of money already owed them by the State of Illinois, and the lack of any hope that it will be better for the 2010-11 school funding year.
Granted, the State of Illinois is in a fiscal mess. The annual deficit sits between $11 billion and $13 billion depending on whose number you believe. And that doesn’t count the billions of dollars owed in under-funded pension liabilities. The state is now a prime customer for a bankruptcy court.
In his annual budget address to the General Assembly Governor/candidate Quinn announced his intention to slash another $1.3 billion in education funding unless the legislators passed a 1 percent “surcharge” in the income tax rate. And this is to be over and above the monies already owed virtually every school district in the state.
We can debate whether state funding and local property taxes are the best way to fund area schools, but for now, that’s the way it is done. Local property taxes fund just a portion of any school’s operating budget. By law, the state is supposed to fund 51 percent of the operating budgets of schools, a law that is apparently ignored in Springfield. The State of Illinois now is second-to-last in funds per student, performing just marginally better than the State of Arkansas, and is nowhere near funding at the 51 percent mark.
So, the outcome you’ve been reading about, and for some of you, experiencing first hand. The latest estimate I’ve heard is just more than 20,000 teachers will lose their jobs and not be re-hired for the 2010-11 school year. All this while Governor/candidate Quinn and our senators/candidates and representatives/candidates are too busy worrying about getting re-elected in the fall to deal with a crisis for the future of education in the state.
Therefore, we need a bold step, and that is for the entire General Assembly and governor to be charged with malfeasance.
Now, before one of the candidates challenges me on that statement, I will elaborate: Webster’s defines malfeasance as “wrongdoing or misconduct, especially by a public official; commission of an act that is positively unlawful.” The under-funding of education, falling short of the mandated 51 percent is positively unlawful. And the refusal to deal with the problem, in my opinion, certainly falls under the category of misconduct.
It’s unfortunate that our cadre of professional candidates in Springfield can’t be terminated for lack of performance. If so, most of them would be standing in the unemployment line. If they don’t get this mess fixed, soon, and save some of these teachers, then I urge you to give them their pink slips in November just like they are handing them to our teachers now.