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Illinois school districts with low-income students sue state leaders

Belleville News Democrat

Thursday, April 6, 2017  |  Article  |  By Lexi Cortes

Budget--State (8) , Education Funding (36a) , Education--Elementary and Secondary (36)
Before this school year, students in Grant District 110 were using math textbooks that were 16 years old.

The Fairview Heights school district’s reading, writing and science curriculums have yet to be updated. Its social studies materials don’t include the past three U.S. presidents.

Elsewhere in the metro-east, parts of Cahokia District 187’s curriculum are nearly 20 years old.

Superintendents from both districts say they’re still trying to catch up with specific education standards set by the state. They haven’t been able to purchase the resources they need to help students meet those standards, like new textbooks, because they say Illinois hasn’t provided any more money to do so.

In fact, they say the state has cut the amount of money school districts receive. School leaders at districts 110 and 187, where there are large populations of families considered low-income, have had to make cuts to programs, increase class sizes and borrow money to make up for it.

The districts are among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Wednesday morning against the state of Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state board of education, asking for additional funding. The suit was filed in St. Clair County circuit court.

The plaintiffs, 17 school districts in central and southern Illinois, say they want a new formula in Illinois for the cost of educating a student according to the state standards, factoring in the resources schools need. Then, they want the state to provide the money.

“We really need a model in our state — how we fund education — to where it’s equitable across the board so from Chicago to Cairo, all our kids get the highest quality education possible and that high-quality education looks the same for everybody,” said Matt Stines, the Grant District 110 superintendent.

Rauner spoke about public education during a visit to Cope Plastics on Wednesday in Alton.

“I want to change the funding formula so low-income schools get some more money so that we can have more equality, more equity, within the school system, so all schools are good, not just a few, high-income schools,” he said.

Rauner said Illinois has the worst state support for schools in the country, which makes districts rely heavily on property taxes for money.

“We have the biggest gap between what low-income schools get and high-income schools get, and that’s not fair to the teachers, and that’s not fair to the students,” he said. “That takes away the American dream from too many of our kids, from too many of our young people.”

District 187 Superintendent Art Ryan said Cahokia schools have been able to update the math and language arts curriculum in the past few years. But cuts were made in other areas.

He said it’s been about 15 years since the district had a band program. They don’t have any instruments, and the art and music teachers were reduced from a staff of 12 to four. About 80 positions, including teachers, social workers, administrators and others, have been cut from District 187 since the 2011-12 school year, according to Ryan.

“Our district has been cut to the bone,” he said.

Superintendent Stines said Grant District 110 saw some families leave when it cut art, music and band programs a few years ago.

In a submitted statement, Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis said Illinois school districts are receiving the highest level of money to date under Rauner. She said the governor has increased money to schools by $700 million since taking office.

“The governor never stops working to increase funding for our students and hopes school districts across Illinois will work with him and members of the General Assembly on this endeavor,” Purvis stated.

A representative from the Illinois State Board of Education could not be reached for comment Tuesday.