School superintendents back education funding reform bill

Superintendents from across the region held a town hall meeting Monday afternoon at the Quincy School District office to voice their support for Funding Illinois' Future's Fix the Formula campaign. The campaign supports Illinois House Bill 2808, referred to as the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act, which would overhaul the state's school funding formula. | H-W Photo/Matt Dutton
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Apr. 17, 2017 6:40 pm Updated: Apr. 18, 2017 9:00 am

QUINCY -- Students do not choose the ZIP code in which they go to school.

Each educator in attendance at Monday's Fix the Formula town hall meeting at the Quincy School Board office echoed this idea in some form.

"The education of our young people should trump politics, and right now, it does not," said Todd Fox, Southeastern School District superintendent.

Seven superintendents from across West-Central Illinois spoke at the meeting on the state funding disparities between districts and the shortcomings of the state as it remains locked in a budget stalemate.

"We are going to be borrowing money before the end of the year if this doesn't change," said Roy Webb, Quincy Public Schools superintendent, "and that's a burden to the taxpayer."

The educators used Monday's event as an opportunity to swing their support behind Funding Illinois' Future's Fix the Formula campaign. Fix the Formula seeks to pressure lawmakers to provide "equity" and "adequacy" in school funding.

The campaign favors Illinois House Bill 2808, sponsored by state Rep. Will Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, a measure referred to as the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act.

"The problem with Illinois is it spends the least amount on the students who need it most," said Ralph Grimm, Galesburg School District superintendent.

Under the formula HB2808 would enact, Grimm explained, "districts with larger adequacy gaps would receive more dollars than those with smaller adequacy gaps. Over time, the goal is to close those gaps so they don't exist."

Grimm approached Webb to coordinate the town hall meeting in Quincy. Also represented were superintendents of Regional Office of Education 26; Regional Office of Education 33; and the Illini West, Bushnell-Prairie City, Southeastern, VIT and Pittsfield school districts.

After Webb and Grimm spoke, each school district superintendent delivered a brief statement on how the predominantly rural districts have been overlooked by state legislators.

"The lack of equity between the 'have' school districts and the 'have not' school districts is unforgivable," said Kim Schilson, Illini West superintendent. "Our students only have a limited time in school. When they are not given an equal playing field, it affects them for the rest of their lives."

Since 2010, Illini West has lost 33 percent of its general state aid. Geographically the eighth-largest district in Illinois, Illini West is owed $240,000 from the state in transportation and special education mandated categorical payments.

"During my own K-12 education, I attended seven different schools," Schilson said. "I was one of those poverty kids. I was always provided a quality education in each and every school I attended. That quality education allowed me to reach my dreams. Today's students can't say the same."

Bushnell-Prairie City Superintendent Kathy Dinger, who has spent most of her 25-year career working in the collar counties near Chicago, told of a colleague who urged her not to take her current position because she would "never get hired again north of I-80."

"When we talk about a broken funding model, we're talking about broken values," Dinger said. "We're talking about valuing kids in different areas of the state differently. The message it sent to me is that the children I was going to do the work on behalf of, they didn't matter."

HB2808 is awaiting a second reading.

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