Amidst Nationwide Protests, BN Group Puts focus on Addressing Public Education Funding in Illinois
As teachers across the nation walk out to protest inadequate pay and school funding, Illinois educators point to their own fair share of challenges.
Members of the Stand Up for Social Justice coalition held a vigil Monday evening outside the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts in support of public school teachers and students.
Bloomington resident and Illinois House 88th district candidate Jill Blair attended the vigil, wearing red in solidarity with those pushing for greater school funding.
Last fall Illinois legislators passed a new funding formula giving school districts without a higher tax base more help from the state.
Blair said while the change was long overdue, it’s just a first step for the state to meet its obligations to teachers and students.
“It’s primarily the state’s responsibility to fund K-12 education, but most schools are only getting 25-30% of their funding from the state,” said Blair.
Illinois school districts will need more help to make up for years of delayed or reduced funding during the state’s budget impasse that forced many schools to borrow money, defer maintenance and cut programs and staff.
Coalition members say Governor Rauner’s proposed budget would place an even greater burden on struggling districts, requiring them to cover their own retirement and health care costs.
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Bloomington Junior High School English Teacher Julie Riley told the group inadequate funding has left schools unable to meet students’ increasing need for services.
Riley said when she started at BJHS 25 years ago, about 20% of students qualified for free and reduced lunch programs; that number today is 60%. Her students also struggle with a lack of access to basic medical care like physicals, dental and vision care and mental health care to address trauma.
The lack of services creates a difficult learning environment for students and makes teachers’ jobs more difficult, Riley said. Meanwhile, school districts still need to pay for regular maintenance to keep facilities in working order.
“I am blessed to work in a beautiful building with a dishwasher so old that when it broke down last spring -- they don’t make parts for it any longer,” said Riley. “All of it takes money.”
Blair said the challenges teachers face on the job makes paying them sufficient wages even more important.
“Teaching is hard; it’s a really difficult profession, and to not have an income you can count on, especially early in their career -- we’ve got too many teachers that burn out really quickly and leave the profession.”
One bill before the Illinois Senate aimed at helping address the problem would set teachers’ minimum annual salary at $40,000.