AWMBHSchool 350BUNKER HILL — Dusty Rhodes, a reporter with Illinois Issues and NPR Illinois in Springfield, produced an excellent piece about the nearly five-year fight for school funding reform in Illinois waged by State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), State Representative Will Davis (D-Homewood) and others. That battle culminated with legislation that was signed into law Aug. 31 this year.

The opening excerpt from Rhodes' report describes a familiar place that Senator Manar discussed countless times in communities throughout the state while advocating for school funding reform: the art classroom at his children's elementary school in Bunker Hill that originally was a janitor's closet.


The new art teacher at Wolf Ridge Elementary seems a bit surprised to find a state senator in her classroom, and a little curious about why he brought a reporter with him.

“This room infuriates me. It infuriates me,” explains Andy Manar.

Over the past five years, he made this art class infamous, mentioning it multiple times in speeches from the Senate floor as he has argued for the state of Illinois to overhaul its school funding system. Manar, a Democrat, is a lifelong resident and former mayor of Bunker Hill. His three children — Abbie, Will and Bennie — now attend Wolf Ridge, the local public elementary school.

But when Manar himself attended this school, back in the 1980s, he never had a class in this particular room, because back then, it was the janitor’s closet.

“I knew as soon as I came in that’s what it was,” says Anne Michalski, the new teacher. Beyond the fact that it’s a fraction of the size of a regular classroom: “There’s no windows. It’s all cinder blocks,” she said. “But you always have to look on the bright side…”

Manar finished her sentence: “ least we have art.”

But all that is about to change — albeit very slowly — thanks to a new school funding plan that became law last week. On the afternoon we visited Wolf Ridge, Manar had spent the morning on a victory tour of several schools around the state. He and a handful of other lawmakers functioned as the warm-up speakers for Gov. Bruce Rauner. Two days later, the cast expanded for a big show at Ebinger Elementary in Chicago, where Rauner used a dozen different pens to affix his signature to the new law.

Such a series of celebrations, plus the crowd piling onto the bandwagon, hint at the significance of this legislation: It marks the turning point of Illinois’ decades-deep history of inadequate and inequitable school funding. Henceforth, districts will receive state aid based on the needs of their student population. That means schools that serve families living in poverty will get more state dollars than schools where families have stable, comfortable homes. And districts with low property wealth — like Manar’s hometown of Bunker Hill, where the median home price is half the state average — will also get an extra dose of state aid. That’s one reason Manar has been championing this cause longer, louder and harder than any other lawmaker.


Read the rest of the Sept. 7 piece and listen to the audio.

(Photo credit: Dusty Rhodes, NPR Illinois)

Category: School Funding Reform

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