Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner talks funding at new area school opening

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner stopped by Mt. Vernon Township High School Friday morning for the grand opening of the new school.

The newest school in the state is almost ready for students, with construction crews putting the finishing touches on classrooms and buildings. And while the school’s expansive facility is impressive, the school highlights a bigger money issue with schools in the state. The school funding formula is something school and state leaders have sought to change for years and could see happen this legislative session, if lawmakers can agree on a plan.

Classes will begin Aug. 29 at the new school, but visitors and lawmakers joined the governor on Friday in a tour of the new building. Mt. Vernon Township High School Superintendent Michael Smith says he’s proud to show off the new school that’s been a six-year project for the area. He says the building is top notch, but he’d like to see some change in how it’s funded.

"The majority of our funding is locally provided. So, there is a burden on our local property owners and our local taxpayers," Smith says. 

Smith says for every student in its classrooms, the school gets about $2,800 from the state. That leaves taxpayers in Mt. Vernon picking up the tab for about $7,200 per student. Smith says that formula puts a big strain on taxpayers in the area, and he’d like to see the state kick in more.

"The state should step up and do more," Rauner says. "We’re the worst state in America for funding schools. We’re number 50 out of 50. That’s one of the reasons I ran for governor: to change that." He says the state relies to heavily on taxpayers to fund schools, and it leaves a big gap between low income and high income districts.

Rauner and other lawmakers agree the funding formula must change. The system that gives some districts $30,000 per student gives others in some southern Illinois districts just $7,000 or $8,000 per student.

Vienna High School Superintendent Joshua Stafford says he hopes real change can be made to address the funding formula issue, because districts like his are hit hard every year the problem is pushed off.

“We strive to be fair in education, so we need to strive for fairness and equity with students across our state. Right now, the formula disadvantages students based on their location, and it’s unfair. Every student should receive an equal opportunity in Illinois, and that’s why we need to revamp the funding formula,” Stafford says.

Smith says his students don’t struggle for a quality education, because taxpayers can put up enough money to keep programs strong. But, he says more help would make a big difference for them.

"It would be nice to have some alleviation from the state and for the state to offset some of those costs," Smith says. He says better funded schools are an investment in our future.

A bill that would adjust the school funding formula was brought up last session. Lawmakers say with the last minute push for stopgap budget measures, it never made it through. Rauner’s office says they’re hopeful a new bill that addresses the funding formula will be brought up in the fall.

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