When Stand for Children Illinois started five years ago, we were thrust into the middle of large and important debates about the public education system in our state. What did the research tell us about how to best provide children with a higher-quality public education? How did a longer school day and school year expand opportunities to learn, and how should that influence policy decisions? Were the Illinois learning standards such that they prepared students for college and career? How could parents in underserved communities become more engaged in the public and political conversation about quality schools?
It has been a privilege to tackle these critically important issues these past five years with parents, community stakeholders, and elected officials across the state. We as a state have made some importance advancements on these fronts. We thank our grassroots, parent-powered network of advocates who have helped us every step of the way to bring about real and lasting change for ALL of Illinois’ students.
While it’s nice to reflect on this hard work that has gotten us here, there is much more to be done to continue improving our education system. Underlying all of these challenges is the funding system in Illinois.
Money is not the answer to everything but money matters – the research on this is clear. With larger budgets, school districts can lengthen the school year, attract high-quality teachers, and reduce student-teacher ratios. For poor children, increased funding can set a child on a path to college, a meaningful career, and a path out of poverty.
Yet Illinois still has the most inequitable school funding system in the entire country. With some wealthier districts in Illinois spending up to $30,000 per student while some poorer districts able to spend only $6,000 per student.
And so, we carry on – inspired by parent advocates like Vivian Wallace who was re-elected to her Local School Council at her Chicago school, Michael Butz who travelled with us in Springfield to testify about fair school funding, and Darlene Williams who took the first plane ride of her life to go to Washington, DC to fight for higher standards in the federal ESSA law. It is clear that we can’t make a positive change without you. Thank you for your commitment, both past and present. Let’s take this anniversary opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the work of providing every child in Illinois, regardless of their background, with a high-quality education.