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Legislature approved school funding overhaul one year ago

BRIGHTON – Smaller class sizes, more support for at-risk students and 425 new laptop computers for students to use at school and at home are some of the positive changes that have taken place in the Southwestern School District because of the state’s new school funding formula.

State Senator Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat and the driving force behind last year’s passage of a new school funding formula, on Thursday toured three schools in Southwestern Community Unit School District 9.

It was the first in a series of school visits that Manar plans to make in the coming weeks to learn about changes school districts are making to benefit students and teachers as a result of more equitable state funding.

“The changes we’re hearing about in school districts like Southwestern are the result of the stability and certainty that the new school funding formula is offering to communities where schools have been underfunded for years,” Manar said. “We haven’t seen this level of change in downstate schools in decades. The energy and excitement I saw in classrooms Thursday is contagious and a welcome sight.”

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Accompanied by District 9 Superintendent Brad Skertich, Manar toured Brighton North Primary School, Southwestern High School in Piasa and Medora Intermediate School.

District 9 received an additional $129,432 under the new formula for the academic year that is getting under way. Added to last year’s additional funding, the new formula has resulted in more than $417,600 in additional money for Southwestern public schools in its first two years on the books.

Among the changes that have occurred in the district that are the result of school funding reform:

  • Brighton North has added a first-grade classroom – going from three sections to four – enabling it to offer first-graders smaller class sizes and more individual attention.
  • Two teacher aides have been added in grades K-6 to work with math students who need additional help.
  • 425 laptop computers were purchased so the district could roll out a 1:1 program to students in grades 5/6 and 9/10.
  • An in-school suspension room was added for older grades to help keep at-risk students in school.
  • A part-time counselor was hired to assist high school and middle school students. The counselor is shared with Staunton schools.
  • Five instructional coaches were added throughout the district to offer professional development for teachers who wish to learn new or better ways to incorporate technology into their teaching.
  • Expanded the assistant technology department from a part-time employee to a full-time employee to help support the students who are part of the 1:1 initiative.
  • Established a fifth- and sixth-grade STEM lab, allowing students and teachers to incorporate more science, technology and math into learning and projects.
  • Established a new high school Spanish curriculum.

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In addition, Southwestern High School was able to remodel its kitchen facility for the first time in the history of the school – built in 1956 – because the additional money being pumped into the district through the new formula enabled officials to free up other money for the remodeling project.

“The evidence-based funding formula has brought additional resources to the Southwestern School District that have been needed for nearly a decade,” said Skertich, who has been superintendent at Southwestern for nine years.

“The new resources have allowed the district to not only maintain, but expand the classes and programs offered to meet the individual needs of our students. In addition, we are excited to be transitioning to student-centered learning environment.”

“On behalf of the Southwestern School District, thank you, Senator Manar, for your tireless efforts to reform the school funding formula,” Skertich added.

The Illinois General Assembly approved the new school funding formula, known as the evidence-based model, on Aug. 29, 2017. It was signed into law Aug. 31, 2017.

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Manar complimented Skertich for being a steadfast champion for school funding reform at the state capitol and elsewhere in Illinois.

“We were able to overhaul the school funding formula because of Brad’s determination and that of other downstate superintendents who knew there had to be a better way,” Manar said. “The transformation taking place in Southwestern schools is a direct result of his hard work and his advocacy.”

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