The following column appeared in The (Springfield) State Journal-Register on June 16, 2017.

 

ManarShaelynSteele 350When I was 15, Sen. Vince Demuzio invited me to spend the day with him at the Illinois Capitol, stirring my love for public service and stoking my desire to be a catalyst for change.

This spring, several area students joined me for a day at the Capitol, coming from mostly public schools across the 48th Senate District.

These schools, in communities like Taylorville, Nokomis and Springfield, represent various populations, student needs and local property wealth.

But Illinois’ terrible school funding formula fails to acknowledge these inherent differences or the idea that offering the same high-quality education to every student requires different resources — and therefore different levels of funding — in each school district. Our rotten, outdated formula identifies winning and losing students based on little more than ZIP codes.

Students born in the Illinois rust or coal belts, shrinking rural villages or decaying urban centers are out of luck because the formula relies too heavily on property taxes to fund schools, and these communities can’t keep up. The formula annually siphons state dollars away and funnels them to wealthier districts. And if you happen to be a low-income student, Illinois will only spend 81 cents on the dollar to educate you.

It’s insane, and if we don’t change the formula now, it will continue to erode and punish downstate and low-income school districts.

That’s where Senate Bill 1 comes in. This plan, approved by the General Assembly in May, would move Illinois to an evidence-based formula, which has widespread support from school superintendents, educators, parents and community groups.

No school districts lose funding under this plan — no exceptions — and it builds in property tax relief for high-tax school districts. Unfortunately, not a single Springfield-area Republican voted for it. As soon as it passed, an orchestrated campaign attempted to conceal their bad vote from constituents.

I’m urging parents and taxpayers to do their homework. Consider these estimated overall gains for Springfield-area districts, which are based on the Illinois State Board of Education’s own analysis of SB 1:

  • Auburn District 10 – $475,000
  • Ball Chatham District 5 – $161,000
  • Carlinville District 1 – $259,000
  • Gillespie District 7 – $624,000
  • Hillsboro District 3 – $194,000
  • Jacksonville District 117 – $323,000
  • Lincoln District 404 – $296,000
  • Litchfield District 12 – $293,000
  • North Greene District 3 – $247,000
  • North Mac District 34 – $411,000
  • Pana District 8 – $469,000
  • Riverton District – $568,000
  • Rochester District 3A – $159,000
  • Springfield District 186 – $1.1 million
  • Taylorville District 3 – $314,000
  • Williamsville District 15 – $94,000

Does this look like a “Chicago bailout” to you?

This is the closest the legislature has come in decades to getting a school funding overhaul to the governor’s desk. It’s a good bill that corrects a long-standing wrong and puts all Illinois students on the path to a brighter future.

Let’s talk about some of those students who visited me at the Capitol this year.

Shaelyn Steele of Illiopolis was a senior at Sangamon Valley High School. She already had been taking nursing courses through community college two nights a week so she could work as a nursing assistant this summer and get an impressive head start on her college education.

Cole Davlin is now a senior at Springfield High School. His favorite subject is history, and he enjoys taking foreign language courses because he hopes to study political science and do ambassador work overseas after college.

Jack Curtin, who lives on his family’s farm in Stonington, recently graduated from Taylorville High School. He told me how he had helped generate support for a property tax increase after the school district was forced to make cuts to balance the budget. He’ll study crop science in college and wants to make sure Taylorville schools are in good shape when he returns home to Christian County someday to work on the family farm and put down roots of his own.

We need to do everything we can to nurture bright, driven, successful students like these — and every Illinois student. It begins by fixing the formula and making Illinois a national leader on fair school funding.

State Sen. Andy Manar is a Democrat from Bunker Hill and the sponsor of Senate Bill 1.

Pictured above: Sangamon Valley High School senior Shaelyn Steele of Illiopolis visits Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) at the Illinois Capitol in Springfield on April 5, 2017.

Category: School Funding Reform

Working Families

 

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