The promise and reality of educational opportunities for children involve a fair chance to develop their capacities and reach their full potential, as well as to become productive and responsible members of the broader community. That’s why we advocate for a “whole child” approach to education — one that addresses children’s cognitive, physical, and social and emotional needs. Our comprehensive approach to education policy involves ensuring a strong foundation in the years from birth to age 8; supporting opportunities that ensure seamless transitions for each child’s education all the way to college or career credential; providing meaningful afterschool and out-of-school time programming; leading school-based mental health efforts; addressing kids’ social and emotional learning needs; and improving equity in education funding. Illinois’ future depends on addressing the educational needs of children — today.
Education Funding: For several decades, public school funding issues in Illinois have been much the same: inadequate state support; heavy reliance on local property taxes; and wide fiscal disparities among school districts. In FY 2010, only 28 percent of revenue for elementary and secondary education in Illinois came from state sources — the lowest share among the 50 states. The Education Article of the Illinois State Constitution declares that the state “shall provide for an efficient system of high-quality public educational institutions and services” and that the state “has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.” Fiscal resources alone do not determine the quality of public schools, but educational opportunities in Illinois are too dependent on the property wealth of local school districts. To encourage funding policies that address the needs of all Illinois students, the Fiscal Policy Center at Voices for Illinois Children provides technical support to the state’s Education Funding Advisory Board (EFAB), which makes recommendations to the General Assembly on General State Aid to local school districts.
Community Schools: Community schools offer a unique system of supports to help students, families, and communities thrive. By making schools a “hub,” the community school concept brings together educators, parents, and community organizations in ways that help kids master core academic skills through engaging, hands-on approaches, while drawing in a wide array of supportive services that promote positive youth development. Community schools also connect kids and parents to community resources as needed, such as mental health and family support counseling. Bringing these diverse opportunities together in one place creates a welcoming, user-friendly resource for families — and it does it cost-effectively. Voices partners with the Federation for Community Schools, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, and Elev8 to help more families and communities benefit from this approach.
Social and Emotional Learning and School-based Mental Health: Voices’ commitment to the “whole child” is reflected in our work to ensure that the social and emotional and school-based mental health needs of all growing children are a top priority for policymakers. Illinois was the first state to adopt Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Standards after the passage of the Children’s Mental Health Act in 2003. SEL teaches adults and children how to identify and manage emotions, develop caring and concern for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and deal with challenging situations effectively and ethically. Social and emotional development is essential to school readiness, academic achievement, good health, career success, and overall well-being.
Services for English Language Learners (ELL): Nearly 200,000 public school students in Illinois have a primary language other than English. English language learners face a variety of extra challenges — including a greater likelihood of living in poverty. Assessing children in their native language and providing appropriate instruction in that language are critical to keeping children current in their academic skills and to improving their English language skills. All children must have the opportunity to learn English in a manner that promotes language and literacy development; the well-being of communities and our workforce depend upon it.
Afterschool and Out-of-school Time Programming: Evidence-based afterschool and out-of-school time programs take a hands-on, engaging approach to learning by tackling key skills such as reading, math, and science. This can help at-risk or struggling students reconnect with school rather than drop out. Out-of-school time opportunities offer more than academics: they provide leadership skills, enrichment, and career preparation for all students. Investments in afterschool and out-of-school time programs are cost-effective; it’s much less expensive to help youth graduate on time and stay out of trouble than it is to pay for remedial education, jail, teen pregnancy, or substance abuse treatment.