Every year, more than half of your property tax bill goes toward educating Evanston’s students. More than $100 million dollars is invested each year to ensure that our school districts are providing a top-notch education to our students. How well is that investment paying off?

Last year Evanston taxpayer contributions to District 65 totaled $82,256,422 or 37.79% of the total property taxes collected by the City. This contribution funds 76% of District 65’s total budget, allowing the District to spend $16,716 to educate each of the 7,655 students in our K-8 school system.

With the substantial financial support of taxpayers, relatively low class size (averaging 21 students per class); a student-to-teacher ratio of 14:1; and 70% of district teachers holding masters degrees, Evanston has the ideal makings of an excellent school system where all children excel and thrive. In our award-winning city, however, when it comes to education, not all students consistently excel.

In 2014, District 65 graduated 728 eighth grade students, 29% of whom could not read at an 8th grade level. In real numbers that translates to 211 of our community’s students who have completed nine years of schooling but are unequipped to excel in high school. Unable to read at an 8th-grade level, these students have a higher probability of being unequipped to go to college (in four years). Unequipped to secure jobs that pay a livable-wage. Unequipped to afford to live in their hometown. Unequipped to ensure that their future families do not get stuck in a cycle of poverty. 

District 65 failed to prepare more than a quarter of its students for their next challenge – a number that becomes even more striking when viewed through the lens of racial disparity:   

• 54% of black 8th-grade students could not read at grade level

• 45% of Latino 8th-grade students could not read at grade level

• 30% of multi-racial 8th-grade students could not read at grade level

• 9% of white 8th-grade students could not read at grade level

By the time these students complete 8th grade, taxpayers will have already invested more than $17 million into their primary education (assuming they’ve been in the District since kindergarten and using a deflated rate of $10,000 per year/per student). If District 65 were a publicly-traded corporation, stockholders would be pulling their money out over this 29% failure rate. In the case of our children’s public education, however, there is no alternative option. There is no other school system to give your tax dollars to and trust with the education of your student, leaving taxpayers forced to pay into a system that continues to produce such inequities.

The cost we pay for failing these students goes well past our tax dollars; it has a lasting impact on the entire community. How can we tell students that education is the gateway to opportunity when we know that so many are so far behind before they ever make it to high school? How can we pride ourselves on diversity with this widening racial achievement gap? What are you willing to do to make sure that our failure rate decreases? In spite of these sobering numbers, we dare to believe that in the City of Evanston, with some intentional efforts, all students can excel.

The Organization for Positive Action and Leadership (OPAL) believes in Evanston and highlights these facts in hopes that you will become more engaged in the work that is necessary to resolve inequities in our community. 

OPAL was founded with the purpose of engaging and equipping Evanston residents to actively participate in the decisions that affect their lives. By educating and mobilizing voters – and supporting qualified community leaders to hold elected office – OPAL works tirelessly to ensure that local leadership reflects the diversity and priorities of all residents throughout Evanston’s nine wards. OPAL’s comprehensive programs work to increase accountability and activate Evanston residents, particularly those who have historically been underrepresented.

To learn more about OPAL visit opalevanston.com or join us at a monthly community meetings. Our next meeting is on Jan. 19, at 6:30 p.m. at Curt’s Café, 2922 Central St.

To learn more about District 65,  attend the next Board meeting on Jan. 25, at 7 p.m. at the Joseph E. Hill Administration Building, at 1500 McDaniel.  – At this meeting the Board will discuss the latest Achievement & Accountability report.

*Data used for this essay was compiled from the following sources: District 65 2014 Accountability & Achievement Report, District 65 2014 Opening of School Report, Illinois Report Card, and City of Evanston tax records.