Large crowd gathers at Old State House to urge equitable education funding

VANDALIA — A crowd of about 500 people gathered Wednesday at the Old State House building in Vandalia, to urge Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly to not only pass a state budget, but to also work on an equitable funding system for Illinois public schools.

Educators, and administrators, including including local representatives Centralia Township #200, Patoka #100, Sandoval #501, Raccoon #1, Iuka #7, Selmaville #10, Irvington #11, Central City #133, Odin #722, Carlyle #1, Eldorado #4, Rome #2, Spring Garden #178, and Willow Grove #146., along with.parents, and advocates from across Illinois attended the rally Wednesday.

Centralia High School Superintendent Chuck Lane says this is not an issue of a “bail out” of Chicago schools, as Gov. Bruce Rauner asserts, and that Chicago public schools are in the same financial boat as Southern Illinois schools, with high poverty students, many with learning disabilities.

Schools want the money for their budgets, says Lane, so they can prepare for the upcoming school year. But the rally wasn’t just about the budget. He says a change has to happen to the formula used to decide that funding.

He calls the current formula unfair and unethical in that affluent school districts have more money than they know what to do with, while poor schools struggle.

More than half of state education dollars go to districts regardless of their wealth, shortchanging poor districts with students who have greater needs.

“The quality of a kid’s education shouldn’t be based on where they live. That’s not right,” said Lane.

According to Lane, educators will continue to beat the drum about funding formula changes, even if a stopgap budget is agreed upon.

He dismisses claims that the issue needs to be studied, saying it has been studied for years and action needs to be taken. Most other states, he notes, have already put into place equitable funding formulas that don’t punish less affluent school districts.

With state aid being cut almost every year, and low property tax bases, combined with proration, poor school districts both downstate and in Chicago are struggling to stay afloat.

State aid has been prorated to a portion of the foundation level — or the amount needed to fund one child’s education for one year — since 2010. That proration has typically been in the 85 to 90 percent range.

Over the last five years Centralia High School has lost approximately $200,000 each year to proration, says Lane, but is still held to the same standards of affluent schools that can maintain balances of more than $65 million in the bank.

Lane says the current process can’t continue, as it has left Illinois at the bottom of the nation in school funding.