Robin Steans, the founding executive director of Advance Illinois, joined the CIS of Chicago team at their fall quarterly staff retreat to provide what she called a “Quick & Dirty Primer” on public school funding in Illinois.
Advance Illinois is an independent, statewide education policy and advocacy organization that works to ensure that Illinois provides a world-class education to every student. It works toward a healthy public education system that prepares all students for college, career and democratic citizenship.
During Ms. Steans’ presentation, she helped CIS of Chicago staff understand the differences between equal funding of public education and equitable funding, highlighting the need to spend more per pupil in school districts where poverty is prevalent. Compared with other states, Illinois has the most inequitable funding system in the country, she reported. The state’s highest-poverty schools receive $2,500 less per student than its lowest-poverty schools, based on 2012 data.
The staff learned how Illinois’ state funding formula is not based on proration and doesn’t target enough dollars based on need. Using examples of neighboring school districts, staff learned that the Aurora East school, as an example, spends about $11,300 per student, with 99% of its students living in low-income households, and 38% of its students who are English learners. Neighboring Naperville spends about $14,500 per student, with 15% of its students living in low-income households, and 4.2% of its students who are English learners.
The insights and lessons from Ms. Steans were complex, yet her thorough understanding of them made the information digestible by the CIS of Staff. Still, the impact on staff were feelings of frustration, as we wondered if funding reform will ever happen.
CIS of Chicago holds quarterly retreats to allow time for staff members to coalesce around big issues facing public education in the city and state, to deepen their understanding of the Chicago Public School system, and to participate in professional development trainings.
Our appreciation to the host of this retreat, CIS of Chicago community partner the American Red Cross.