Special education funding for Evanston/Skokie School District 65 and Evanston Township High School District 202 is under attack – and we need your help to face down the threat.  

We are deeply concerned about the current Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) proposal to take $305 million in mandated funds for special education and transfer it to a general school spending fund (General State Aid) where it could be used for expenses completely unrelated to special education.

What does this funding proposal mean for Evanston schools?  It would lead to a substantial reduction in money needed to provide services to our students with disabilities. The current financial resources are already stressed, particularly because there is still no state budget. ISBE’s proposal would force Evanston school districts to find approximately $670,000 from their general budget to cover special education costs, filling the vacuum left by the State’s reallocation of money under the proposed plan (ETHS D202 $216,046 and D65 $457,267). To learn about the impact on all school districts, refer to the spreadsheets on ISBE’s website in the section General State Aid.

ISBE’s plan is to move special education funds from select North Shore school districts in order to provide general funding for districts that have fewer financial resources. This would push the financial burden to provide “equitable” allocation of State education money onto a few local school districts. ISBE argues that Illinois students should not bear the burden of inequitable education funding.  This sounds like an assertion that we all could support. But balancing the State education budget at the expense of Evanston’s families caring for students with disabilities isn’t equitable at all. It’s just wrong. Our school districts rely on the money mandated for special education to supplement local tax revenues. Every penny of special education funding from the State and Federal government is essential.

For most families of students with disabilities, there are no affordable alternatives to the public schools for the essential diagnostic, therapeutic and special education services their students need. If purchased in the private sector, these services are simply out of reach for low income and many middle income families. This is an especially urgent issue for Evanston, where 43% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.  Financially speaking, Evanston is in no way a typical North Shore community.  Our 43% lunch subsidy rate, an indicator of low-income status, far exceeds our neighbors to the North including New Trier (where 3% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch), Stevenson (5%), Highland Park (9%) and Deerfield (9%). 

In addition, this scheme could raise costly legal problems for local school districts which could further undermine the funds available for education. Districts are obligated to maintain services for students with special needs according to federal law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) regardless of financial constraints. ISBE’s plan would put school districts between a rock and a hard place.

Please join us in opposing the Illinois State Board of Education’s recommendation to take special education funds away from Evanston.  Our families and school districts need our support. Contact your legislators and/or sign the petition at Change.org titled “Protect Special Education Funding in Evanston, Illinois.”  And support Evanston CASE (Citizens for Appropriate Special Education) in our work to protect the educational rights and successful futures of our children with disabilities. For further information about Evanston CASE, contact us at info@evanstoncase.org or 847-566-8676.

Cari Levin, LCSW, founding director, Evanston CASE and Julie deLara, board member, Evanston CASE