A clause in the 2017 school funding reform law was designed to provide property tax relief. But after one year of implementation, the State Board of Education is suggesting lawmakers might want to reconsider.
Under Illinois’ previous school funding structure, most of the burden fell on property owners. The 2017 law was designed to shift more of that load to the state, with an additional $350 million going mainly to the neediest districts. But $50 million of that was set aside to abate taxes in districts that were squeezing homeowners too hard.
Robert Wolfe, the agency’s chief financial officer, told lawmakers today that 28 districts got relief grants, including five of the state’s wealthiest districts.
“There’s a question for decision-makers such as yourself,” Wolfe said. “Was this money intended for districts that were above the adequacy mark? At either 90 percent or 100 percent?”
Furthermore, Wolfe said, districts that got the grant have to abate taxes for only one year, but the grant remains part of their state funding into perpetuity.
“So there’s a decision to make, for decision-makers to make: Will there be a statutory need or requirement to continue to abate taxes? Or is this a decision that will be maintained and left at the local level?” Wolfe asked.
Education advocates who testified before the committee said if the tax relief measure isn’t changed, the legislature should increase the state’s school equity appropriation from the statutorily-required $350 million to at least $450 million.
Lawmakers on the Senate education committee listened, but didn’t articulate a response.