As an example of the current system, Vienna Unit School District, a deep southern Illinois district with more than half of its 430 students living in poverty, spent an average $5,200 per student last year, according to the State Board of Education. Superintendent and Principal Greg Frehner says cuts in state funding over the last few years have resulted in staff layoffs, transportation headaches, and elimination of programs providing students’ extra help.
“We’re just barely covering salary and textbooks,” he said.
Meanwhile, New Trier schools in the northern Chicago suburb of Winnetka, spent an average of $12,725 per student last year because of a wealthier tax base combined with state funding, state board data show. In that district, only three percent of the 4,200 students live in poverty.
Former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, who oversaw the last change to the state’s school funding formula, said the new effort is different from others because it has support from legislators of both parties.
“It will require setting aside politics to support a system that better serves children, particularly those most in need,” Edgar wrote in a Feb. 6 op-ed column in newspapers around the state, including the (Springfield) State Journal-Register.
Another hopeful sign: Chicago Public Schools officials testified at the committee’s December hearing that they would be in favor of being integrated into the same formula as the rest of the state.
Officials indicated they could accept fewer dollars in order to have a more stable source of state funds each year.
Robin Steans, director of Chicago-based education think-tank Advanced Illinois, said Chicago officials, as well as others in the education field realize there are deep inequities.
Any funding solution has to be thought about comprehensively,” Steans said.
Chicago, state Rep. Will Davis, vice chair of the House education appropriation committee said, “doesn’t educate the same number of students that it did before.”
“While likelihood that we can get this broad comprehensive package done is going to be challenging, I’m up for the challenge, because we need to do something a lot different,” he said.