GRANITE CITY — The students sporting navy blue jackets with the words Illinois FFA across the back were on a mission Monday afternoon to advocate for funding for agriculture education.
The high school students from Edwardsville, Mascoutah and Highland spoke to representatives of the Illinois State Board of Education during a public hearing for the fiscal year 2016 budget held at Granite City High School.
Ashlyn Gietl, president of the Highland FFA, said she’s greatly benefited from the agriculture education she’s received at Highland High School.
“If we had no agricultural program at my school, I would never have the passion for agriculture that I do now,” she said.
Kevin Eschmann, agriculture instructor at Mascoutah High, said the number of students interested in agriculture education has increased, and funding is a “vital component” of future success of the agriculture programs at area high schools.
He said agriculture classes offer students a “valuable education” as they incorporate several different components including technology, science and English.
Several community members and educators in attendance advocated for additional funding for early childhood education.
Bernadette Schrempp, an assistant state’s attorney in St. Clair County, said helping children develop “critical social and cognitive skills in the first five years of life not only helps them succeed in school, it cuts crime.”
Schrempp, on behalf of St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, urged the state board to continue its commitment to the Early Childhood Block Grant.
Sherri O’Toole, a family coach with Children’s Home and Aid, also spoke in favor of more early childhood funding.
O’Toole said she’s seen firsthand how metro-east families and children, ages 0-3, benefit from early developmental screenings, which can often uncover learning challenges that might not have been discovered until the child started kindergarten.
Illinois State Board of Education member James Baumann, who served as moderator of Monday’s hearing, said early childhood education is important. “We know it makes a difference,” he said.
Tricia Blackard, a teacher at Collinsville Area Vocational Center, encouraged state board members to fund Career and Technology Education programs, which provide students skills area employers are seeking.
“Don’t forget how important CTE is to students, the surrounding community and employers,” she said.
Michelle Knight, an advocacy coordinator for St. Louis Area Food Bank, spoke on behalf of No Kid Hungry Illinois and the need to fund school-based nutrition programs.
“A well-nourished child is better prepared for the school day,” she said.
Knight encouraged the state board to expand the school breakfast program and implement some alternative breakfast models. Currently, she said only 44 percent of children eligible to get free breakfast at schools in Illinois are receiving it.
The purpose of the hearing Monday was to gather public input on what education needs should be a priority as the board prepares its fiscal year 2016 education budget recommendation for the governor and general assembly.
The board’s Finance and Audit Committee hosted four public hearing thus far including the one in Granite City. The fifth and final hearing will be Friday in Chicago.
The public hearing Monday also provided area residents an opportunity to voice their support or opposition to Senate Bill 16, which was introduced in April and aims to change the method of distribution of state funds to the state’s 857 school districts.
According to figures released earlier this year by ISBE, some metro-east school districts will benefit greatly from Senate Bill 16, if approved, while others will lose funding if the school funding formula is altered by the state legislature.
Jim Greenwald, superintendent of Granite City Community Unit School District 9, spoke in favor of the bill. He said it “better directs existing state money in a more equitable manner.”
District 9 has been forced to borrow more than $9 million over the past several years. If the inadequate level of funding continues from the state, Greenwald said the district will be forced to make “drastic cuts in the future.”
Like Greenwald, Victor Buehler, superintendent of Bunker Hill Community Unit District 8, said the proposed legislation would more equitably distribute funds to Illinois school districts.
Brad Skertich, superintendent of Southwestern Community Unit School District 9, also supports Senate Bill 16. “Proration has unfairly targeted proration-dependent districts,” he said.
Instead of funding the per student state aid at 100 percent, Illinois has prorated its general state aid to school districts since 2009.
Skertich said Senate Bill 16 provides a much-needed change to the school funding formula. “The inadequate funding cannot continue. It’s time for the state board to take a stand,” he said. “Our kids deserve better. This is an adult problem, and our kids are suffering.”
Testimony from the budget hearings regarding Senate Bill 16 will be shared with legislators and state board staff. Those who were unable to attend the public hearing are encouraged to email any guidance or feedback to ISBE at email@example.com.
Read more here: http://www.bnd.com/2014/11/17/3517024/kids-deserve-better-illinois-state.html#storylink=cpy