Regional events highlight inequitable funding, impacts on schools and students
April 26, 2017
By Bob Dolgan
Education stakeholders came together for a series of seven events during the week of April 17 to share the impact of Illinois’ broken funding formula and maintain momentum toward passing school funding reform legislation this spring. Superintendents, teachers and families are saying their students cannot wait any longer for a fix to Illinois’ funding system—the most unfair funding system in the nation according to The Education Trust. Currently, Illinois’ funding formula is inequitable, spending just 81 cents on a low-income student for every dollar it spends on a non-low-income student.
The town halls and press conferences included remarks from superintendents, legislators and education policy experts and an opportunity for audience Q&A. The events culminated with more than 200 educators, parents and community members rallying with Illinois for Educational Equity in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago at Chicago Theological Seminary on April 20.
“There is real recognition in Springfield that the funding formula is flawed and it needs fixing,” said State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D) in Chicago. “We need to put more resources into public education if we move to a more evidenced-based formula and come up with something that ensures equity and adequacy. It’s a critical message and lawmakers need to hear it.”
Rep. Flynn Currie chairs the bipartisan House Education Task Force, which began meeting in March with the purpose of finding a solution to inequitable funding. On March 30, the House Education Appropriations took a major step forward by passing HB2808, which would improve funding equity and utilize evidence-based principles. Task Force member State Rep. Tony McCombie (R) spoke at a press conference at Bowlesburg Elementary School in East Moline.
“Yes you can raise property taxes, but it doesn’t mean it’s right,” said McCombie. “What we’re really talking about is closing the budget gap for districts and getting politics out of our schools.”
Superintendent Kristin Humphries of East Moline School District #37 stated that 20 teachers had been laid off in the past year in his district. Six other area superintendents and three regional superintendents joined the event to share their support of fixing the school funding formula.
“This isn’t just a few districts, or just East Moline or Galesburg, we all have a story to tell,” said Humphries. “Even if we were a district with great property wealth, we’re better when we lift all children up and give them all opportunities.”
“Our community has stepped up to the plate, and we cannot ask them to do more,” added Ralph Grimm, Superintendent, Galesburg Community Unit School District #205, which has had to raise taxes to make up for inadequate state funding. “Our class sizes are increasing, and our educational opportunities are diminishing. The funding formula is broken.”
Dr. Mark Hansen of Eastland School District #308 represents a relatively wealthy district and traveled to East Moline for the press conference. Hansen, a Board member of the Illinois Association of School Administrators, also believes a fix is needed and that the evidence-based model (EBM) should be utilized.
“Eastland is a well-resourced district,” Hansen said. “We spend right at the level of adequacy [recommended by EBM] to fund our schools. We know the indicators in EBM can be used for success. But districts right around us are not as well off. This formula fix has to be accompanied by appropriations.”
EBM in HB2808 ensures no school district loses money, neediest districts receive new funding first, takes local resources into account, and closes funding gaps between low-income and wealthier districts and keeps them closed over time. It also provides additional dollars for special education.
“How am I supposed to support all of my students so they have the tools necessary to be proper citizens?” said Taylor Beale, a 7th grade reading and writing teacher in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. “Growing up on the West Side is a fight in itself. It shouldn’t have to be a fight for education, too.”
Other Fix the Formula Illinois events took place in Aurora, Berwyn, Carbondale, Quincy and U46 (Elgin), communities in every corner of the state that hold high aspirations for their students in common.
“The parents in my districts dream about infinite possibilities for their kids,” Humphries said. “We need to be able to offer those in East Moline as well.”