Statewide Campaign Helps Push Historic Bill Over the Finish Line
In 2015, Education Trust ranked Illinois as the worst in the nation for funding equity.
The gap in funding for school districts was startling and flew in the face of research establishing that low-income students need additional supports. Some districts scraped by with $6,000 per pupil, while others spent more than $20,000. For every dollar Illinois was spending on non-low-income students, it was allocating 81 cents per low-income student.
This inequity was due mainly to years of underfunding and the state’s heavy reliance on local property taxes. Districts in Illinois with high property values were able to make up for shortfalls in state funding by raising local revenue, but students in low-income school districts were shortchanged.
Attempts to craft a solution ran into years of false starts, task forces, expert witness testimony, draft bills, front-page news, and political mudslinging.
The 2017 legislative session brought a newly elected Republican Governor who faced a Democratic majority in the House, a Democratic supermajority in the Senate, and longstanding leadership in both chambers. Against this backdrop, a proposal emerged in the Senate known as The Evidence-Based Model for Student Success Act, or more commonly “SB1.” SB1 set forth an arrangement in which no school district lost money compared to the prior year and any new dollars were distributed equitably.
A broad coalition of educators, parents, and advocates from across the State — including Stand for Children — united in support of SB1.
Stand’s efforts included hosting a large Chicago rally where downstate superintendents and Chicago Public Schools stood side-by-side to publicly express for the first time their joint support for the bill. Stand also collected nearly 1,600 paper petition signatures which Stand members delivered to the Executive Office, sent over 1,500 more online signatures to Springfield, and actively lobbied legislators. Two Stand members were plaintiffs in lawsuits challenging the inequitable funding system.
As the legislature’s regular session came to a close in May of 2017, tension between the Governor and the General Assembly came to a boiling point on several fronts, including on education issues. The Senate and House passed SB1, but the Governor immediately threatened to veto it. The legislature recessed without passing an education budget. Multiple school districts worried they would not have enough State funds to open their doors in the fall.
The Governor intensified his veto threats, and Stand intensified its efforts to protect SB1.
Stand identified over a dozen downstate legislators whose votes we considered critical for a veto over-ride. Over the course of the summer, Stand launched a seven-figure, multi-faceted campaign of polling, field, digital, mail, and lobbying targeted at educating the voters in these legislative districts about why the equity-focused funding formula in SB1 would serve their students. Those efforts included:
- Press conferences and earned media hits across the state
- Two telephone townhalls with Illinois voters
- 560 yard signs
- 10,100 parent-to-parent hand-signed letters
- 184,679 emails to voters
- 697,839 phone calls to voters
- 816,983 mail pieces
- 1.1 million views of Stand’s fair funding video
- 3.4 million Facebook impressions
Ultimately, the General Assembly passed a bill embracing all the concepts of SB1 with added elements to reach a bipartisan compromise, such as mandate relief and property tax referenda to reduce school districts’ levies. All but two of the legislators Stand targeted voted for the bill. The Governor signed the bill at the end of the summer.
For a media overview on how the bill shakes out, see this Chicago Tribune article. Finally, check out these statements on the compromise package from legislative leaders and Stand, as published in Capitol Fax.
Parent Organizing Leads to Safer Streets
Spring means warmer weather, blossoming trees, and, in neighborhoods like the one where Kimberly Payton’s family lives, Spring also means more crime.
A family-engagement program sponsored by Stand helped Kim start to see education as a partnership between educators and parents. She created her own personal motto: “each one, teach one, reach one” and embraced it, becoming the chair of her Local School Council and vice chairperson of the Parent Advisory Council.
In the spring of 2018, a serious altercation near school grounds drove Kim into action. She started talking with school leadership and parents about how to make the area around the school safer. She knew a community-driven solution was needed. After all, her younger children were so afraid of the police that they ducked down in their seats when the family drove past a squad car.
Kim organized parents and they reached consensus that the school needed Safe Passage. This program posts workers strategically along routes to local parks and schools so students can travel safely to and from school. The parents teamed up with Stand, which provided advocacy training, technical support, and research.
The parents went into full-scale advocacy mode – going door-to-door and talking to anyone in the community who would listen. Kim collected over 100 petition signatures in a matter of weeks. The need for Safe Passage was deeply underscored by their personal experiences and crime statistics. As Kim was knocking on doors, a drive-by shooting took place on the same street. Police fatally shot Snoop the Barber just blocks away from the school during this same time. The community where the school is located ranked sixth among Chicago’s 77 community areas for incidences where one or more people were killed over the past decade. In 2017 there had been 12 shootings within the school’s attendance boundaries, eight of which occurred during the day.
Thanks to the parents’ persistence and Kim’s determined leadership, CPS awarded Safe Passage to the school beginning in the 2018-19 school year. While much needs to be done to continue to make the community safer, according to Stand’s analysis of data, the area around that Safe Passage route is now significantly safer:
- During the 2017-2018 school year, 16% of violent crimes within one block of the school’s Safe Passage Route occurred between 7-9AM or 3-5PM (prime commuting hours for students). After the implementation of Safe Passage, that figure dropped five points to 11% during those same hours.
- After one year of implementation, violent crimes committed between 7-9AM and 3-5PM within one block of the Safe Passage Route fell by 30%. Compare this to the 10% reduction in violent crime across the entire Ward for the same period.
- In the 2017-2018 school year, 70% of violent crimes committed within one block of the Safe Passage Route between 7-9AM and 3-5PM were committed on a street, sidewalk, or alley. After implementation of Safe Passage, only three incidences of violent crimes (a 43% reduction) occurred on a street, sidewalk, or alley during those same hours.
Every time Kim sees a Safe Passage worker, she feels community pride. She remains committed to standing for her children and all children.