Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
Children, parents, school officials and concerned residents rallied in Vandalia — Illinois’ old state capitol — for a state budget. Coincidentally, on the same day, the General Assembly met in Springfield for the last time before the end of the fiscal year.
Children held signs up that stated: “save our students,” “children deserve a champion,” “kids before politics” and “children deserve a champion.”
The rally’ various speakers expressed concern about Illinois’ school funding formula, which they say leaves some school districts poor, while leaving others extremely rich. Inequitable funding was not the only concern; another important issue is Illinois’ current budget crisis.
The free and reduced-price lunch program that provides essential nutrition for low-income students was also an issue for superintendents at the rally.
With some school districts having up to 75 percent of their students in the low-income program, the districts themselves will not be that much better off due to the inequity in property taxes.
Equitable funding is necessary for a “world-class education,” as many speakers at the rally proclaimed.
Parents were not the only people who were rallying.
“As a teacher I know how messed up the system is,” St. Elmo teacher James Megenharet said.
The rally, led by superintendents and leaders of parent organizations, described their losses because of budget cuts.
Vandalia Superintendent Rich Well said “thousands of schools in various school districts are scared whether they will open.”
If no budget is provided, many districts will face issues with keeping their schools functioning, much less their sports and extracurricular activities.
Many students depend on sports and other activities not only to enjoy, but also to improve skills that they may use in college or their career.
“Some kids stay in school only for sports,” Nathan Miller, a concerned father from Vandalia, said.
With concerned residents of Illinois rallying for a budget, many are hopeful for something, while some are doubtful.
Sandra Stine, a teacher from Brownstown Elementary School, said “today our state legislatures need to kick it in gear.”
Megenharet, teacher from St. Elmo School, said “politicians will do nothing.”
“Hopefully a budget comes out.”Robin Brooks, a superintendent from Selmaville, said. “Hope this isn’t an empty promise.”