Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=164755
Story Retrieval Date: 10/31/2014 6:49:05 PM CST
This map of Illinois illustrates how the property tax rates that municipalities rely on to fund schools and local services often vary dramatically from town to town.
Poorer communities where properties have lower assessed values need to charge a higher tax rate to collect the same, or even less, revenue compared to their wealthier neighbors, said Ron Baiman, the director of budget and policy analysis at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.
The disparity can be particularly striking in public school funding, he said, which in Illinois is overwhelmingly derived from property tax.
“It leads to ever-increasing inequality in educational outcomes,” Baiman said. “It’s really a terrible way to fund public schools.”
Illinois has three categories of school districts for purposes of state aid, explained Yerik Kaslow, a research associate at the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.
Foundation-formula school districts are those where local property tax can cover 93 percent or less of a state-determined minimum level of spending per pupil and receive funding to make up the difference. Alternative-formula districts can meet between 93 percent and 175 percent of the foundation level and get a lower level of state aid.
Districts that can cover 175 percent or more of the foundation level are deemed flat grant districts and receive a flat amount per student – currently $218 – from the state.
Student performance is consistently higher at wealthier, flat-rate districts, said Kaslow, citing research by the center. This, he said, is a result of funding disparities compounding disparities in parental education and wealth.
“Parents’ education level and income level are two of the most important determinants of how you’re going to do” as a student, Kaslow said.
To counteract that effect, other states equalize educational funding by relying less on local property tax, pooling property tax from multiple communities or using other revenue sources for school funding.
Tom Johnson, the president of the Illinois Taxpayers’ Federation, said tax rates and revenues can also reflect local priorities. For instance, a suburb may deliberately choose to remain a bedroom community rather than developing an industrial base that would supplement residential property taxes.
He suggested the problem of lower tax revenue in poorer communities be addressed through regional revenue sharing.
“That’s problematic in most urban areas of the country,” he said of the disparity issue.
The Twin Cities region, he said, has implemented revenue sharing, and groups like the Metropolitan Planning Council advocate similar measures for Chicago and its suburbs.
The map below provides a comprehensive look at total property tax rates for Illinois municipalities, using the most recent data available from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Communities with below-median tax rates are indicated in green; those with tax rates between the 50th and 75th percentile are colored green; those in the 75th percentile or above are shown in red. Clicking on a municipality will give the tax rate, percentile and a link to its complete set of Commerce Department data.