Illinois lawmakers and advocates said the Illinois General Assembly must increase the state income tax to fund public schools after new data released on Sept. 18 showed statewide education funding gaps greater than what officials once believed.

“I don’t think that this issue is going to be solved unless we do something drastic,” state Sen. Rev. James Meeks said during a panel discussion attended by more than 150 people at the Union League Club of Chicago. Panelists said they support what Senate Bill 2288 purports to do—to increase the personal income tax by up to 5 percent, in order to raise base-level funding for districts with low property tax revenues.

Earlier this month, Meeks led a Chicago Public Schools boycott to bring attention to the inequities and during the panel discussion promised to protest again—this time during a Chicago Cubs playoff game.

The panel was convened by Catalyst Chicago, which released new data along with The Chicago Reporter, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and the Community Renewal Society. 

The analysis looked at 376 unit districts, as well as 498 different elementary and high school district combinations, for children entering school in 1994 and spending the next 13 years in Illinois public schools. In 83 districts or paths, more than $125,000 was spent per pupil. But in 79 districts or paths, less than $75,000 was spent. More than 95 percent of the low-spending districts were outside of the six-county Chicago metropolitan area.

When it comes to funding schools, the districts that rely heavily on state funding are typically those that do not generate a lot of money from local property taxes, according to the Reporter.

Another key finding was that 93 percent of black children attend school districts with poverty rates greater than 30 percent.

“School funding has been a major crisis in the state of Illinois for a long, long time,” said Dawn Clark Netsch, a former state legislator who moderated the panel and campaigned for school funding reform when she ran for governor 14 years ago.

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