CHICAGO -- Gov. Jim Edgar of Illinois has proposed increasing education funding by more than $2 billion over the next five years partly through a plan that would match local funds with state riverboat gambling revenues.

The school funding plan, unveiled by the Republican governor last week, rivals an initiative proposed in January by State Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch, his Democratic opponent in the Illinois gubernatorial election on Nov. 8.

Under Edgar's plan, schools could receive an additional $1 billion of revenues through a state and local government matching fund program, which would rely on the legislature to earmark all increases in riverboat gambling revenues for education.

The matching funds could be used to finance technological or capital improvements in schools, Edgar said.

If the Illinois legislature allows riverboat gambling in Chicago, the added gaming proceeds would enable the state to contribute an estimated $500 million to the matching fund program over the next five years, Edgar said. Without the Chicago riverboats, the state contribution would be about $200 million over five years from existing riverboat casinos.

Under the matching program, poorer school districts could contribute less than half the amount they would receive from the state, while richer districts would provide more than half, according to Edgar.

The Chicago riverboat gaming plan, which has the support of Edgar and Mayor Richard M. Daley of Chicago, faces opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate, which wants business-related reforms to be approved in exchange for approving Chicago's casino plan.

Construction of a riverboat gambling and entertainment complex in Chicago would be financed by the issuance of up to $800 million of revenue bonds, according to city officials.

Edgar said that schools would receive another $1 billion over the next four years if the state allocates 36% of its general funds revenues to education. That initiative is included in Edgar's proposed budget for fiscal 1995, which begins on July 1. Elementary and secondary school districts and higher education institutions would receive an additional $250 million in fiscal 1995 under the initiative.

Comptroller Netsch in a press release said that Edgar's school funding plan is "full of promises he will not keep."

"During his last campaign, Jim Edgar said that funding education was his number one priority, but then he diverted money away from our schools. Now he promises more money for education. Well, you can't fool the voters of Illinois twice," Netsch said.

From 1991 to 1994, the state's share of education funding dropped to 32.8% from 37.7%, according to Netsch.

Netsch also criticized Edgar's school funding plan for relying heavily on local government matching dollars. She said that forcing school districts to come up with 50% or more of the funds will drive up property taxes.

Netsch's education platform entails increasing funding for schools by $1 billion a year, reducing property taxes by $1 billion, and reducing income taxes for some residents. Her plan would be financed by increasing the state personal income tax to 4.25% from 3% and the corporate income tax to 6.8% from 4.8%.

Richard Laine, executive director of the Coalition for Educational Rights, a statewide educational reform group, commended Edgar on addressing the need for school finance reforms.

However, he said, Edgar's plan appears to rely too much on general revenue growth and riverboat gambling proceeds, which may not solve the education funding problem in the state.

"Unfortunately, it's like drip-feeding water to a thirsty, dying person," Laine said.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.