Democratic state Rep. Sam Yingling got to see some of the young faces attached to the issue of education funding Tuesday at a Round Lake school.
Yingling observed three preschool classes and talked to teachers and a high-ranking administrator during a visit to the Round Lake Area Unit District 116's Early Education Center. The legislator and educators agreed the state should change how schools are funded so low-income systems such as District 116 can receive more money.
At the forefront of the conversation in teacher Kali Skiles' classroom was an Illinois State Board of Education spreadsheet showing District 116's overall funding is considered 61 percent adequate. About 52 percent of the Round Lake district's students are considered low-income.
District 116's funding adequacy compares to 148 percent for Oak Grove Elementary District 68 and 218 percent at Antioch-based Grass Lake Elementary District 36, according to the state board of education formula prepared in January.
"Round Lake is only getting 61 percent of the money it would take for all those children to get an equal chance at an education," said Skiles, whose Daily Herald guest column on school funding in February led to Tuesday's meeting.
Yingling, a Grayslake resident, said legislators must do something to end schools' heavy reliance on property taxes. He contends the system does not work well in the less affluent Round Lake area, where property owners have higher school tax rates than surrounding areas because of lower assessed property values.
"And on top of that, for a school district like Round Lake, to be relying on the state for that extra money -- if the state could provide that extra money -- is just overall unfair," Yingling said.
Joshua Kauffmann, executive director of the advocacy group Teach Plus Illinois, also attended the session. Skiles is a state policy fellow for the organization, which says its goal is empowering excellent, experienced teachers to take leadership over key issues that could affect their students' success.
Skiles and Kauffmann told Yingling they want him to support education funding proposals from state Rep. William Davis of East Hazel Crest and state Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill, both Democrats. Under Davis' plan, any new education money first would be directed to Illinois' neediest schools but would not take from wealthier districts.
Yingling, whose district includes the Round Lake-area school system, said he cannot commit to the proposals until he conducts independent research.
After the session, Skiles said she was "thrilled" Yingling visited her building and listened to the funding concerns.
"It's kind of nice to connect what we're facing in the classroom to what's going on in the legislature," the fourth-year instructor said. "I think that's very helpful, because what ultimately happens in the legislature is really going to impact what's happening here in the classroom."