Income inequality is affecting education in K-12 schools. Dr. Frank Beck, who is a Professor of Sociology at Illinois State University says students who worry about issues at home can lose focus in the classroom.
“If you’re worried about dinner, and you did not have breakfast, and now you’re faced with two plus three is five, you might not care about two plus three is five.”
The League of Women Voters held a panel discussion on income inequality in McLean County, featuring experts in education, sociology, and law.
During the presentation, Beck talked about the differences in funding between low income districts and high income districts. Illinois ranks 50th in that category, according to a study from The Education Trust released last year. Beck says that can be related to Illinois using property taxes to fund schools.
“If there’s a high level of disparity in those property values themselves, then schools are going to be funded well or not.”
Beck says income inequality is recreated by property tax funding and the reward system used for test scores.
“We test the students, and we decide that the students who test well, the schools who have a great percentage of people who pass the test, should get a reward relative to the schools where not very many students pass the test.”
Dr. Mary Kay Scharf, director of Principal Leadership for District 87, says a change in the funding formula for schools in Illinois would make a dramatic change for schools in the district.
“We get very little state funding in Bloomington Public Schools.”
She says a change may not come anytime soon
“Some people have put all their professional energies into trying to convince Illinois and the legislature to change how we fund schools in Illinois without change, without results.”
The discussion also focused on legal issues for low income individuals. Local organizations provide legal help for people below the poverty line, but University of Illinois Law Professor Stacey Tutt says many people don’t know they have a problem that can be fixed through legal means.
“If someone’s facing unfair debt collection, damage to their credit reports, loss of housing, even in those situations people don’t think to go to the courts. They don’t think to seek legal help. They don’t realize that there’s even a legal remedy to that.”
The three panelists answered questions from the audience and explained the statistics of income inequality, comparing McLean County with the entire state. The League of Women Voters will hold another panel in April, discussing politics and immigration.