A Publication of WTVP

As Superintendent of Peoria Public Schools, my team and I were so excited to show our Governor and his team the great offerings we are providing students when it comes to career pathways and skillsets they can take directly to the workforce or to college. Our district, its stakeholders and our partners worked hard to build a strategic plan, recently approved by the Board of Education, to offer our students experiences, opportunities and support that will educate and graduate each young person prepared and inspired to contribute to the world. As the Governor saw on his visit to Woodruff Career & Technical Center in February, when our young people are presented with engaging learning options—especially when those options are geared toward their niche—they rise to the occasion and do amazing things!

Proration and Local Resources
But these options come at a cost for school districts, especially when serving students who come from underprivileged, urban school districts like Peoria Public Schools. The range of experiences, opportunities and supports needed for our students are vast, and the state and local resources to pay for them are significantly limited.

During his visit, Governor Rauner’s commitment to ending the practice known as “proration,” where the state failed to pay the mandated per-pupil amount for every student enrolled in an Illinois school district, was impressive. Collectively, this has cost districts throughout the state hundreds of millions of dollars. For Peoria Public Schools, the cost since 2009 is $23.5 million, which has had significant impact on our ability to secure balanced budgets for the last seven years. In fact, had we received the money the State promised us over the years, our district would not only have likely balanced the budget each year, but would be working with a $4-million surplus this school year.

However, there are many other districts in our state for which years of proration have not had a significant impact on their overall budget. That’s because they have access to significant local resources to make up the difference. By its nature, this creates districts of haves and have-nots, and it speaks to the fact that our state’s education funding system does little to help cash-poor districts, with limited access to local resources, cover the costs of giving their students the resources they need to be successful.

For example, our district’s revenue is 50 percent reliant on state funding, but only 20 percent on federal and 30 percent on local. Compare that to Unit 5 in Bloomington-Normal, whose revenue is 23 percent state funding, seven percent federal and 70 percent local. So, while ending proration will help districts like Peoria, it does little to address the inequities in education spending that exist between wealthier districts like Bloomington-Normal and poorer districts like Peoria.

It is laudable to put more money into public education, but when we examine the Governor’s budget proposal more closely, we find his gesture does little. Fully funding the formula by $55 million pales to the nearly $400 million districts have lost due to proration this past year alone. It also does nothing to allay the damage done to our neediest students and districts across the state, and it doesn’t fix the root problem of a fundamentally unfair funding system.

Shortchanging Our Students
Today, Illinois has the most inequitable education funding system in the nation, thanks to decades of inaction on changing the way we fund our schools. Wealthier districts invest as much as $25,000 per student, while poorer districts invest as little as $6,000 per student. As long as leadership in Springfield refuses to fix this massive inequity, another generation of children will be shortchanged of the resources they need to access a great education.

School districts throughout Illinois—rural, suburban, downstate and urban—are all suffering from this flawed system, which penalizes districts that don’t have the ability to raise local resources to support education.

I hope that our Governor and leaders in Springfield will not only acknowledge the flaws in our state’s education system, but act on it. Our children need reform now. Not posturing. Illinois needs a budget now. Not finger-pointing. This funding inequity is holding back tens of thousands of children from realizing their full potential, and we can no longer accept that as the status quo for our communities. We have children who are expecting us to open doors to experiences, opportunities and support they need to participate in our career pathway programs at Woodruff and beyond.

Just like the Governor, our district has identified career pathways, early childhood education, and social and emotional support as the top priorities to move our district—and state—from good to great. Please don’t let inequities in our state tell students in Peoria Public Schools that they deserve less or must wait longer because of the zip code and the economic status in which they live. iBi