Too often Illinois has been viewed as a laughingstock by the rest of the country for its broken finances and its notorious governors. The chaos of the last few years, though, is enough to make even the most forgiving person shudder.
Now, after a historic budget impasse has ended, schools in the state face a final hurdle in fixing a broken education funding formula that has left far too many children disadvantaged for far too long.
The General Assembly passed a new school funding formula, a formula that ends decades of a broken, inequitable system that does the greatest amount of harm to our most vulnerable and disadvantaged students: those living in poverty and special education students.
This Monday, the bill is expected to be sent to the governor. The governor has threatened an amendatory veto to kill the reform to the funding formula.
As educators, we chose our profession to make a significant positive difference in the lives of our children. Instead of making choices in the best interest of children, my colleagues and I are continually faced with distinguishing between which choices are the least harmful to our students.
Right now we are fighting for the bare minimum, opening our schools and wondering how long we can keep the doors open. We should be talking about raising the bar and investing in excellence in education.
Now, with school starting in less than one month, we are faced with decisions of which programs and services we will be forced to dismantle next.
Money for supplies and curricular materials has been dramatically cut. Technology is behind and lagging. Textbooks in many cases are 20 years old or classes inexcusably go without them. Interventions for struggling readers are limited.
We have had little to no social emotional supports for our students in a time when many families are experiencing hardships and crisis. Our teachers, despite their best and most heroic efforts feel vilified and unsupported because they can’t get their kids the things they need in the classroom.
We’re All In This Together
At Staunton Schools, where I am the superintendent, we do not suffer from a spending problem, we suffer from a revenue problem as a result of operating schools under the most inequitable and inadequate funding system in the nation.
The new school funding formula is the solution superintendents across the state have been waiting for because it would drive new dollars to the neediest districts.
Some, including the governor, claim that this new formula favors Chicago. To that, I say we should not be pitting children and communities within our state against each other.
We need to put an end to the “zip code politics” surrounding education funding. We value children and students and care about educational outcomes everywhere.
Despite all of our issues, we in Illinois are in this together.
By fixing the broken funding formula, we can end decades of inequity and give kids all around the state hope for the future. After years of dysfunction, we’re on the verge of making Illinois notable for something else: one of the most equitable school funding systems in the nation.
It’s time to end the years of uncertainty and instability for schools. Let’s set politics aside to focus on what matters most: investing in student excellence.