Southern Illinois Lawmakers, School Leaders Call for Equitable School Funding

A group of downstate lawmakers Thursday urged their colleagues to pass a budget that would include equitable funding for public school children.

Two buzzwords you hear a lot in any discussion of school funding are adequacy and equity. Adequacy is the notion of having enough money, like Governor Bruce Rauner has offered in his proposal to increase funding. Equity is the notion of giving every district its fair share, like another measure pending in the Senate aims to do. Representative Brandon Phelps, a Democrat from Harrisburg, prioritizes equity.

"How can anybody argue that a child is worth more up north than it is down south? I just don't get that. It doesn't make a lick of sense."

Phelps and his downstate colleagues declined to explicitly endorse any piece of legislation.

Meanwhile, Speaker of the House Mike Madigan has proposed a constitutional amendment that could shift the funding question to the courts.

Matt Donkin is the regional school superintendent for Franklin, Williamson, Johnson and Massac counties.

He says many southern Illinois schools rely heavily on general state aid. Donkin says people may not think education funding is important right now, as we head into summer break, but there is no off-season in education administration.
"We are to the point right now, we're looking to next year, we're scheduling, we're ordering supplies, all the things that have to be done to get school open in August."
Christopher Schools Superintendent Richard Towers says his district is a good example of how southern Illinois schools rely on state aid to exist. He says his district receives 65-percent of its funding from the that has been dwindling.
"During the last five years, the pro-ration of general state aid has cost my district $2,242,908."
Towers says that means his district has had to scrap plans to increase its vocational education, foreign language and remedial education offerings.

Goreville School Superintendent Steve Webb says the fact that larger, northern Illinois schools can spend much more on their students than smaller, downstate schools isn't right. He says instead of calling this a fight for more education funding, it should be called a fight for more child funding.
"I don't think there's anyone in their right mind that would accept that a child in the suburbs of Chicago is worth $25,000 or more and a child in Hardin County, Illinois is worth $6,000. The discrepancies we have dealt with for decades must end."
Harrisburg Schools Superintendent Mike Gauch agrees children need to be the priority. He says without state funding right away, many southern Illinois schools will close by September or October.
"I didn't get into this education business for that. I can't hardly look at my third graders and fourth graders every day and think that we're going to put them out on the street because we can't come to some kind of conclusion up here in Springfield."