Schools will benefit from vote for 'fairness'
As a teacher who works in a well-funded suburban district in Illinois, I always joke with my CPS teacher friends that they should join the dark side and "come to the suburbs." My situation as a teacher is better than most. We have a new, cutting-edge learning management system. Our English department provides novels for students to keep, not borrow, for class. We have the ability to only be a 1:1 school that provides a Chromebook to each student, but we are even able to provide an internet hot spot for students with limited access during remote instruction in the midst of a global pandemic.
This makes it astronomically easier for me to educate all my students. But there are many, many teachers who are nowhere near this situation. I have friends who teach in CPS; the district is not providing laptops and hot spots to their students. How are teachers supposed to effectively educate students remotely when some may not even have a device to get on the internet? Not everyone has the means to move to the suburbs and enjoy these necessities that, to others, seem like luxuries. Does this mean that only some of our children deserve to have them?
One thing we can do to help is to support the Illinois "Fair Tax" referendum. Illinoisans will vote to amend the Illinois state Constitution to allow us to switch from a flat tax system (where everyone regardless of income is taxed at the same rate) to a graduated one (where the more money you make, the more you are taxed, as with our federal income taxes every year).
Currently in Illinois, whether you make $40,000 or $400,000 per year in income, you are taxed at 4.95%. This essentially means that lower-income residents pay a higher share of their disposable income as taxes than higher-income residents. This isn't fair.
Numerous schools in Illinois are seriously underfunded. The evidence-based formula (EBF) for school funding, which passed in 2017, established a goal of comprehensively changing the way school districts receive the bulk of state funds. The EBF sends more money and resources to Illinois' most under-resourced students. Students from Zion to Chicago all the way down to Belleville are benefiting from an increase in state funding. In my school, we already have all of the resources we need to adequately teach our students. The resources some schools receive through EBF funds are things we have had access to for years. This isn't fair.
The EBF also determines the "adequacy target" of school districts. This represents the amount of funding a district should spend to provide its students with a high-quality education. This target is calculated based on a number of factors, including student demographics and regional living costs (a district with more low-income students needs more resources to cover services than a district with fewer low-income students). The school district where I teach in the suburbs has 172% of the funds needed to provide its students with a high-quality education. CPS, for example, has hovered around 64% for the past few years. This isn't fair.
We need more state funding. At Thornton Fraction High School District 215, state funding has allowed the district to hire seven additional teachers, which allowed the district to double its Advanced Placement offerings from seven to 14 classes. Because of state funds, hundreds of students can now be exposed to more rigorous courses. McLean County School District 5 was able to bring in two college and career counselors with funding that was previously unavailable. This effectively helps increase post-secondary opportunities for their students. And if the Fair Tax passes, these students will be able to enjoy more resources to allow them to become the contributing members of society we expect them to be.
Arriving at fair and sufficient funding relies upon Illinois' capacity to have consistent revenue sources and addressing the disparity in school funding. Otherwise, the dent we've made in mitigating this disparity will be buffed out.
So how can we ease this imbalance of funding in school systems in our state? By voting yes for fairness. By voting yes for change. And by voting yes for the Fair Tax.
• Dillin Randolph teaches freshman and honors sophomore English at Niles West High School in Skokie. He is a 2020-2021 Illinois Teaching Policy Fellow.