Education advocates silent in capital protest

Harrisburg's Mike Gauch joined a silent protest with advocates who support fixing Illinois' broken education funding system.

The quiet demonstrators gathered Monday and urged a House Education Task Force to take action on the state's inequitable and unfair funding system, which has penalized students from cash-strapped districts for decades, hurting those who need help the most.

"This is our time to come together as parents, educators, community leaders, business owners, and elected officials and demand a fix to this system," said Gauch, Harrisburg School District's superintendent. "We have a moral obligation to invest equitably in the future of every child who calls Illinois home."

Nearly two dozen members of the Funding Illinois' Future coalition participated in the protest prior to Monday's task force hearing to symbolize the voices that have gone unheard for decades in the call for education funding reform in Illinois, which has created school districts of haves and have-nots throughout Illinois.

Gauch led the protest, along with Jenny Moats, a parent from the Taylorville School District, and Kristin Humphries, East Moline Elementary School District superintendent, all of whom spoke before the start of Monday's House Education Funding Task Force in support of a three-year effort led by the FIF coalition, which advocates reforming the state's public education funding system.

This system is a web of complicated formulas that result in less than half of all state education dollars going to school districts based on a local district's ability to pay for local schools. More than half of State education dollars go to districts regardless of their wealth, shortchanging poor districts with students who have greater needs.

"Children in our district have been shortchanged for far too long," said Moats, a nurse and parent from Taylorville. "The current education funding system is keeping our students from reaching their full potential.

"The state needs to better support our schools so they can better meet the needs of their students as our schools can't afford to invest what's needed. Once your school goes under, your community goes too."

Humphries said, "We've had decades of districts that have lost under Illinois' education funding system, and it's time that we started prioritizing their needs ahead of those who are flush with the resources in order to bring equity to this very broken system."

Additionally, for the past five years, Illinois has paid school districts just a portion of the general education funds they are owed. The state cuts every district by the same percentage. This ends up hitting poorer school districts that rely more heavily on state aid the hardest, such as those throughout the Southern Illinois region.