Illinois ranks near bottom in equal education for minorities

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Minority students in Illinois are falling through the cracks because they are more likely to be enrolled in the worst-performing schools, according to a new national study that reinforces what education activists have been saying for years about the state’s inequitable school funding system.

The study by the Schott Foundation for Public Education placed Illinois 45th among the 50 states in providing high-quality schooling to low-income and minority students. That finding is no surprise, since Illinois ranks near rock-bottom in state funding for education and black and Latino youngsters are far more likely to live in poorly-funded, low-performing school districts.

The report also quantified the long-term economic impact of the disparities, estimating that lost tax revenue, increased crime and imprisonment, and other consequences of unequal education cost Illinois $3.7 billion a year.

Researchers ranked states according to an “opportunity to learn” score that is based on two variables: how easily disadvantaged students can access the best schools, and how well disadvantaged students meet proficiency standards on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Minority students in Illinois are falling through the cracks because they are more likely to be enrolled in the worst-performing schools, according to a new national study that reinforces what education activists have been saying for years about the state’s inequitable school funding system.

The study by the Schott Foundation for Public Education placed Illinois 45th among the 50 states in providing high-quality schooling to low-income and minority students. That finding is no surprise, since Illinois ranks near rock-bottom in state funding for education and black and Latino youngsters are far more likely to live in poorly-funded, low-performing school districts.

The report also quantified the long-term economic impact of the disparities, estimating that lost tax revenue, increased crime and imprisonment, and other consequences of unequal education cost Illinois $3.7 billion a year.

Researchers ranked states according to an “opportunity to learn” score that is based on two variables: how easily disadvantaged students can access the best schools, and how well disadvantaged students meet proficiency standards on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

To determine the best schools, the study identified four factors considered essential to learning: high-quality early childhood education, highly qualified teachers, adequate instructional materials, and a college preparatory curriculum.

In Illinois, just 13 percent of black students, 17 percent of Latinos and 25 percent of Native Americans are enrolled in top schools, compared to 40 percent of white students and 45 percent of Asians.

“Fifty-five years after Brown vs. Board of Education, we are not giving our children a fair and substantive opportunity to learn,” said John Jackson, president and CEO of the Schott Foundation, during a teleconference unveiling the report. “Essentially, our states are still operating under separate and unequal educational systems.”

Illinois now faces a lawsuit, filed by the Chicago Urban League, charging that the state’s inequitable school funding system violates the civil rights of poor black and Latino youngsters.

Jackson believes that states need to focus on creating accountability systems that ensure that money and resources are going to the places they’re needed most, and adds that Schott favors implementing a system that would red-flag struggling schools. The preschool-through-college student data system proposed by the Obama Administration is also an important piece of the puzzle, he added.

“This is about developing a system that holds government, the president and legislators accountable,” Jackson says.

The study makes four recommendations to the federal government, including supporting and monitoring states to insure that they implement five-year plans to boost minority students’ access to the best schools.

“No student should be denied the access to learn based on where they’re born or who they’re born to,” said Jackson.