The Illinois State Board of Education is shaking up its meeting schedule. 

Monthly board meetings typically rotate between Springfield and Chicago.

But this year, the board also has planned meetings for East St. Louis, Macomb and Rockford.

That’s in addition to adding new cities to its rotation for budget hearings in October and November. Traditionally, the state has held three budget hearings, in Chicago, Springfield and Mount Vernon, to reach the upper, mid and southern part of the state. This year, ISBE has added a fourth location — East St. Louis — and also moved the budget hearing that it traditionally holds in Springfield to Bloomington.

ISBE spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said the board’s aim in expanding its meeting and hearing locations is to hear from more stakeholders across the state of Illinois.

“It’s an opportunity to see and visit more districts and for board members to meet with superintendents and stakeholders who can’t otherwise travel,” Matthews said.

The board consists of nine members who are appointed by the governor with the consent of the Senate. The board is charged with setting educational policies and guidelines for public and private schools, preschool through grade 12, which serve some 2 million schoolchildren in the state. According to the agency’s website, it makes recommendations for education funding and other legislation to the General Assembly and governor, as well.

One of two budget hearings to be held in the greater Southern Illinois region is scheduled for Wednesday.

It will take place immediately following the Illinois State Board of Education meeting at the East St. Louis Public Schools Administration Building, at 1005 State St. This is also ISBE’s first meeting this year to be held outside of its typical meeting locations in Springfield and Chicago, Matthews said. The two-day meeting began Tuesday and is expected to conclude around noon Wednesday, she said. Shortly after, the board will host the budget hearing, and the public is invited to attend.

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The other Southern Illinois hearing is scheduled for 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 6 at the Dr. Nick Osborne Primary Center CORE Classroom, at 401 N. 30th St., in Mount Vernon. This is the southernmost meeting the board has scheduled to hear community feedback.

The vast majority of education dollars approved by the General Assembly and governor are allocated based on a formula to school districts, with ISBE's input on budget recommendations. In 2017, the state adopted an evidence-based funding system, which aimed to provide a more equitable distribution model to aid school districts located in regions with less property wealth. State officials say the new system is making a difference.

“Illinois has made historic investments in evidence-based funding and early childhood education that have transformed entire communities,” said state Superintendent of Education Dr. Carmen Ayala, in a statement. “The voices of educators and community partners must be front and center as we advocate for the adequate and equitable resources our students need to continue to grow.”

A recent analysis by Capitol News Illinois found that change is coming slowly under the new system, and that school districts with larger amounts of property wealth are still significantly better funded, and their students overall performed better on standardized tests during the 2017-2018 academic year. Advocates of the new formula say that the compromises required to get the formula overhaul passed meant it wasn't as bold a solution as originally proposed, but they still believe it is an important step forward. 

Money matters: How school funding inequities affect Illinois students, taxpayers

The evidence-based funding system divides schools into four tiers based upon how far they are from "adequacy targets" as determined by finances and the makeup of their student population. The formula directs the vast majority of new state funding into schools that are identified as being the most in need, such as those throughout Southern Illinois that are located in districts with low or modest property wealth. It replaced a formula that offered a per-pupil "foundation" level from the state. Education advocates considered it regressive because budgets were often not adequately funded, and neither funding increases nor cuts were equitably distributed based on financial need. 

Matthews said ISBE is interested in hearing feedback on the implementation of the evidence-based funding system. Additionally, the budget typically includes some funding for targeted programs outside of the formula, and feedback is welcome on what types of special initiatives would be helpful, she said.

Matthews said ISBE has also improved the process by which stakeholders can submit budget requests by creation of a form that is available at isbe.net/budget.

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