My students discover state’s school funding math doesn’t add up

Chicago Sun-Times – April 13, 2016 | Original opinion piece

By Joseph Matuch, 6th grade math teacher at Simmons Middle School

Gov. Bruce Rauner, seen here speaking at the Old State Capitol on Wednesday, has proposed increasing state funding for education by $55 million to bring it to 100 percent of the per-student "foundation level" required by state law. AP Photo/Seth Perlman)    

Gov. Bruce Rauner, seen here speaking at the Old State Capitol on Wednesday, has proposed increasing state funding for education by $55 million to bring it to 100 percent of the per-student "foundation level" required by state law. AP Photo/Seth Perlman)
Joseph Matuch

As a math teacher, I’m always trying to figure out real-life applications for my lessons. For example, when I teach about percentages, we talk about grades, retail sales …  and school district funding.

I really didn’t expect that last one to go over so well. But my sixth graders surprised me.
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I started by explaining that school districts get funding from local, state and federal sources. (A few eyes glazed over.) Then, I told them that because the State of Illinois couldn’t give school districts all of the money required by state statute, state officials decided to withhold 11 percent from what they had promised each district.

I asked my students if that seemed like a fair way to handle the situation, and the class consensus was yes.

That’s 11 percent withheld from our East Aurora district, yes, but also 11 percent withheld from West Aurora, 11 percent withheld from Indian Prairie, 11 percent withheld from St. Charles, and so on.

But then I gave my students this word problem: “Our district receives about $100 million each year from the state, and a neighboring district receives about $7 million. Find 11 percent of each of those numbers.” As students calculated their answers, suddenly 11 percent didn’t seem very fair anymore.

“We lost $11 million?”

“They didn’t even lose $1 million!”

“That’s unfair!”

My students were hooked; they wanted to do something about this, and I was in teacher heaven. The best teaching moments are the ones the students create.

I gave them the option of writing a letter to a senator or state representative. If any student did not want to, I had other work prepared for them to do; it’s important that (as teachers) we give students the choice to take a stand. Most of mine did.

My students and I reviewed how to write a letter, and I assigned each one a local state representative or senator to write to. My lesson was turning out to be a home run, yet I felt conflicted. I couldn’t help feeling disappointed in our state for providing such a sad, practical application.

When school districts lose funding, students ultimately are the ones who suffer.

In my district, 90 percent of students come from low-income households. We rely heavily on funding from the state, and when it doesn’t come, our administration needs to make difficult decisions.

The discussion goes from “What can we do?” to “What do we cut?”

Over the past four years, we’ve lost $36 million due to cuts. To put that in perspective, it cost less than $10 million to buy the land and building for our new kindergarten and renovate it.

Imagine what we could have done with $36 million!

All in all, my lesson took less than 90 minutes, but students continued to learn from it long after.

State Sen. Linda Holmes wrote a letter back to every student who had written her one. It made their days, and mine, to know that the letters had been received and read.

Though I teach math, students learn much more in my class. They learn to write, think critically, and advocate for themselves. You can help them by visiting http://www.d131.org/fixtheformula.

See the original opinion piece here.

Category: Latest

Feb. 22, 2016 - Kane County Chronicle | Original article

by Ashley Sloboda

GENEVA – For everyone who bad-mouths the state legislature, Kane County Board member Brian Pollock wants them to know that the lawmakers do good as well.

Thanks to their support, two bills passed last year are expected to annually bring in about $3 million to Kane County, Pollock said Monday during the Kane County Legislative Committee Breakfast.

“They did do a lot,” he told the crowd, which included state Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora; state Rep. Steve Andersson, R-Geneva; and state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora. “We do appreciate it.”

Holmes, a former County Board member, said she misses county government because of its ability to accomplish items. She said she doesn’t see the state budget impasse ending any time soon.

“We are no longer functional,” she said of Springfield.

Read the full article here.

Category: Latest

2016 02 05 Holmes groundbreakingAurora Beacon-News - Feb. 5, 2016 | Original article

By Steve Lord

It was big news when developers broke ground on a $25 million renovation of the former St. Charles Hospital building in Aurora.

The project includes $18 million in private funding, but could not have been done without federal and state historic tax credits and loans from the Illinois Housing Development Authority, and the city of Aurora, using the city's authority provided by another federal program.

Aurora was one of the first cities to take advantage of the River Edge program, and was the first city to seek and receive an expansion of its original zone. It was that expansion that put the St. Charles property inside the zone.

But the project in Aurora came to pass in large part because a respected, experienced developer like VeriGreen was in charge, and was able to convince people to push deadlines to make the development happen, city officials said. The time frame was tight because the River Edge Redevelopment Zone program is set to expire at the end of 2016, and despite widespread support in the river towns that can benefit from it, and even bipartisan support in Springfield, the future of the program and the ability to do more projects like the St. Charles one is in doubt.

"Unfortunately, in this atmosphere, nothing's going anywhere," said state Sen. Linda Holmes, D-Aurora, who supported River Edge legislation the first time around and supports its reauthorization. "Even pieces of good legislation that would get bipartisan support are going nowhere."

Read more ...

Category: Latest

Aurora St. Charles Groundbreaking

Senator Holmes attended the groundbreaking of a long-in-development project now coming to fruition in Aurora Thursday.

The old Aurora St. Charles Hospital, built in 1932 and since added to the National Register of Historic Places, had fallen into disuse. With help from the RiverEdge Redevelopment Zone program, developer VeriGreen was able to secure the necessary funding to begin work on rehabilitating the building. When complete, it will feature 60 senior living units.

"The value of preserving this historic structure while also using it to care for our elderly is exactly the kind of development we're hoping out of the RiverEdge program, and the reason I urge an extension to it beyond this year," Holmes said. "This preserves the past while planning for the future in a way that's precisely in keeping with the story of this historic local gem."

The RiverEdge Redevelopment Zone program will sunset at the end of 2016 unless it is extended.

Category: Latest

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