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James Meeks: Schools need funding stability while we seek equity

James Meeks, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education. | Sun-Times file photo

Last week, the Illinois State Board of Education heard presentations from two groups of committed community members wanting to make changes to the current K-12 funding formula. Both groups included educators, legislators and parents who have worked long and hard to address the inequity and inadequacy in the way that Illinois funds schools. As a religious leader, a former legislator and the current chair of the Illinois State Board of Education, I applaud their focus and hope that together we can find a resolution that will allow more children in Illinois to graduate from high school ready for a high paying job and a rigorous college program.

There are some facts that we all need to face.

Fact 1: The gap between what we spend on our wealthy and what we spend on our poorest children is greater in Illinois than in almost any other state.

Fact 2: Nearly 1 out of every 2 children in Illinois graduates from high school ill prepared for college. These children cannot afford to miss even a day of school.

Fact 3: Many districts in Illinois are experiencing great hardship and, if they don’t get money in July, will have a difficult time opening their doors.

When I was Senator Meeks, I worked with other members of the General Assembly to change the way we fund schools. As chair of the Illinois State Board of Education, I remain equally committed; however, given the current political stalemate, I believe that our first responsibility is to make sure that a school budget is passed as soon as possible. The governor has made a commitment to sign an education budget that ends proration. Let’s pass a school budget now that fully funds our schools, as we continue to work for greater adequacy and equity in our funding formula.

By doing both, school boards around the state can begin planning for next year while committing to a future that responsibly ensures that the poorest child in Illinois has a future as bright as the wealthiest.

Rev. James Meeks

Chairman

Illinois State Board of Education

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