BERWYN – Students, parents and teachers at Morton East and West high schools showed their support for public education and demanded more funding equality among school districts during walk-ins Oct. 6.
The rallies, which were before classes started and featured several speakers, were part of a national movement that encourages families and communities to demand more resources for public schools.
Robert Bartlett, a teacher at Morton West and executive board member of the Morton Council Union of the Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 571, said the purpose of the walk-in was to defend public education and ensure a quality public education is available to all students.
“We want to have more resources so students will have a future they can achieve and want a commitment to an investment in their future,” he explained. “The state hasn’t been funding MAP grants, so if our students don’t have those, it limits their choices for college.”
More than 200 cities across the country participated in the National Day of Action, which was sponsored by the Alliance to Reclaim Public Education, a coalition of education nonprofits and teachers unions. About 50 to 60 teachers, students, administrators and parents were on hand at Morton West to voice their concerns about public education.
A main issue facing J. Sterling Morton High School District 201 is equity in education funding, Bartlett said. He hopes the state will find another way to make education more equitable among districts so kids across the state can have the same opportunities. He explained districts in neighboring communities spend much more money per pupil than District 201 does.
“It gives kids [in other communities] an advantage, and I don’t think the children of Berwyn and Cicero should be penalized because of the zip code they live in,” he said. “We want equal funding for all districts or something to better equalize because there are vast discrepancies. It’s not an equal public education. A progressive state income tax in Illinois would be one solution. We can’t completely depend on property tax.”
Jocelyn Moreno, 17, spoke at Morton West’s walk-in. The high school senior talked about the positive aspects of her education in District 201 but also commented that her friends and family in other districts were able to take a wider variety of classes while in high school.
“Morton West has provided me an education where I am ready for college, but at the same time, other kids took different classes that allowed them to explore their interests more,” she said. “It’s not fair that in certain parts of the state, the schools get more funding. Why do we deserve to get less? Does our socioeconomic background define our potential? My peers and I deserve the same opportunities in school.”
Amanda Genge, a teacher at Morton East High School in Cicero, said the walk-in at her school helped begin a dialogue among administrators, teachers and parents about the future of public education. She explained the walk-in had a very positive outcome because people were talking about the important issues school districts face.
“I just want the best for the students. The students in Cicero are wonderful, and I hope they get what they deserve,” she said. “We want people to know that teachers aren’t passive. We’re looking for solutions, and there needs to be an alliance between parents, the community and the school. We’re building one, but we need to be much stronger.”
Another important issue that was discussed at both walk-ins was standardized testing. Bartlett said he believes schools should do more teaching and less testing.
“We need fewer tests that aren’t diagnostic, but are merely used to rank schools. Our time should be spent teaching, not administering tests,” he said.
Moreno agreed with his position on standardized tests. She said students are over-tested, and she feels she should be spending that time learning in the classroom.
“I’m more than a test score. That doesn’t define me,” she said. “I know it’s easier said than done, but we need more funding and less testing. The walk-in sends a message that we should be getting more.”