Concerned parents and teachers listened last week as state lawmakers lamented the funding challenges local school districts face thanks to the ongoing state budget crisis.
During the Oct. 18th forum – attended by state Sen. Don Harmon, Sen. Kimberly Lightford, Rep. La Shawn Ford and Rep. Camille Lilly – legislators discussed the longstanding problem of funding inequities across the state’s 800-plus school districts
Lilly criticized the state funding formula, saying it doesn’t properly distributing money where it’s most needed, creating an imbalance between better-off school districts and others that have greater numbers of students in need.
“When you think about equity for me it entails the distribution of state funds,” said Lilly. “It’s distributing funds to areas that are in need.”
Harmon said the issue is how the state doles out money to schools.
“Truth is we are not at the bottom in funding as most think; we are at the bottom of the list when it comes to state funding,” Harmon said. “We have created a system that relies on property tax to fund schools.”
The state needs to do a better job, Lilly said. “We are not leaders when it comes to educational funding.”
Ford, a Democrat, criticized Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, saying he is one of the main reasons why the state’s largest school district, Chicago Public Schools, does ot receive the funding it deserves.
“We have a governor that refuses to put money in education; he would rather fund correctional facilities,” Ford said.
Both Lilly and Lightford discussed legislation they are working on that would help improve education for all students by providing social and emotional screenings.
Lightford also spoke about racial inequalities. Illinois suspends more African-Americans than any other state in the country, she said.
“A million instructional days have been missed from students being expelled or suspended in Illinois,” she said.
This is not just a Chicago issue but one that affects students across the state, Lightford said, adding that something must be done to keep children in school.
She said school districts must do away with so-called “zero tolerance” policies.
“Senate Bill 100’s whole purpose is to keep children in class rooms, so they won’t miss out on instructional learning during suspensions,” Lightford said. “We need to offer children with behavioral issues these types of opportunities.”
Saria Lofton, a parent of an 8-year-old and 9-year-old in Oak Park’s District 200, asked lawmakers why there are so few black male teachers.
A majority of African-Americans are not passing the test to become a certified teacher, Lilly said. “A task force needs to be created to monitor and analyze why blacks educated in our school systems are not passing.”
Lofton said ther sons should have role models in their schools that look like them, helping them to create a connection with their teacher.
“One thing we have to do is make people want to be teachers,” said Ford, a former teacher. “We need to increase the total salary for a teacher. . . . I understand why people are not lined up to teach.”
Lofton said forums like the one held last week in Oak Park are important because they allow parents to directly speak to decision makers.
“Having these open discussions are so important,” she said. “It shows me people are invested in our children’s education. Just talking to legislators is extremely important; we can learn about bills and laws that can benefit us all.”
Lofton also voiced her dissatisfaction with schools forcing students to take test on computers.
“They need to allow students to take written exams, which will make work accessible to all children,” she said. “I often think I should have put my 2nd grader on the computer earlier, if I knew everything would be online at such a young age.”