2017 Kids Count

Bonnie Wheeler, vice chair of Voices for Illinois Children, speaks Thursday about the 2017 Kids Count. 

CARTERVILLE — Voices for Illinois Children released the 2017 Illinois Kids Count Data Book on Thursday, finding that the educational success of Illinois’ children varies drastically based on the county in which they live.

The data proves that large gaps in achievement and attainment exist in Illinois and disproportionately impact low-income and minority children in communities that lack funding for quality educational programming.

“The data obviously proves we must reduce systemic inequities, increase support for the students who need it most,” said Bonnie Wheeler, vice chair of Voices for Illinois Children.

This is the 25th year for the Kids Count report. Wheeler added that the report enables everyone to assess the challenges, then hopefully change policy.

“This report uses the best available data to measure educational, social, emotional, economic and physical well-being of children and is intended to provide policy makers and community leaders and education leaders with the material they need to make the changes happen,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler was joined by Lorie LeQuatte, regional superintendent of schools for ROE 21, and Amy Simpson, Gumdrops founder and director, at the news conference. 

LeQuatte spoke about the school funding change, one area that shows success. 

“As regional superintendent of schools, it’s my duty and my honor to advocate for the needs of Illinois students. I am optimistic to report that our legislature has passed an evidence based funding formula,” LeQuatte sais. “It’s still not clear exactly how the funding will be determined or when we will be seeing the funds based on the new formula, as it is currently being calculated and agreed upon by everyone involved in Springfield.”

LeQuatte said she does know that local schools will be seeing more money. With more money, schools will see more resources and training and professional development for teachers. LeQuatte believes that will inevitably will increase achievement.

The news conference was held at Gumdrops in Carterville, a not-for-profit organization that provides backpacks of easy-to-prepare food and snacks to at-risk students in local school. The organization started by handing out 12 backpacks to children in Carterville School District. They are now active in 37 schools in 14 school districts across six Southern Illinois counties.

Volunteers work in three shifts, 10 a.m. Tuesday, and Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.

“We would love to have anyone help who wants to,” Amy Simpson, founder of Gumdrops said.

Wheeler said Kids Count concludes with three items to make systemic gains in education for all students. First, increase investments in quality early childhood education for low and middle income students; examine and address inequities in school resources, teacher and principal distribution, course rigor and discipline practices; and coordinating support services to every child had access to food, after-school programming and mental health and health services.

“I recommend all journalists and anyone who writes grants look at Kids Count,” Wheeler said.

The report is available online at www.voices4kids.org.

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Herrin and Carterville, and is the food writer for The Southern.

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