FILE - Classroom

Nearly every politician in Illinois wants to lower local property taxes, but a representative for school boards said sending more unfunded mandates to local districts that are largely funded through property taxes makes that goal harder to reach.

As school bells ring for the first time this week, school boards know they must begin to prepare for a number of new requirements coming in the 2020-21 school year, including a higher minimum salary for teachers and statewide curriculum mandates for new civic education classes, lessons on the history of Illinois, LGBT history and more. 

Ben Schwarm, deputy executive director at the Illinois Association of School Boards, said lawmakers consistently express support for lower property taxes, yet continue to send school districts mandates that will require adding staff or result in higher costs. 

“The onslaught of these curricular mandates has just been really imposing over the last several years,” he said. “And there are four more this year. The minimum wage salary increase, in many districts, is going to lead to teacher layoffs.”

The new law requiring every student to fill out an application for financial aid in order to get a diploma will mean significantly more work for school staff, Schwarm said.  

“Every student in high school is either going to have to have proof that they’ve filled out the FAFSA, a written waiver for it, or help to have them complete it,” he said. 

Schwarm said, while teaching civics to students is valuable, requiring an entirely new class to be added into middle school curriculums represents a "significant cost" to districts since it would likely require a new teaching position. 

Josh Ellis, vice president of the Metropolitan Planning Council, said the cost of having a society uneducated about its role in the democratic process would be more expensive. 

"I recognize that there is a cost, and perhaps a substantial one, to executing on this requirement to teach civics comprehensively across Illinois," he said. "But, I think the cost of inaction is one that we see playing out everyday across the American landscape of people not understanding their role and responsibility as citizens." 

While some mandates, such as teaching the history of Illinois, don’t represent a major cost to districts, others, Schwarm said, either require a new teacher with added costs or cuts to other departments.

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.