As we near the April 2 local elections, consider the following numbers:

10 and 9 – Percent of registered District 65/District 202 voters that cast ballots in the contested elections in 2011 and 2015.

5,219 and 4,600 – Number of voters who determined our School Board members during these elections.

These indicate low engagement in local elections in years when only School Board and Ridgeville  Park District candidates appear on the ballot.

How does participation look this year?  With about 35 audience members at OPAL’s School Board forum last week, later-than-typical campaign kickoffs and few yards signs, increased turnout does not appear promising.

Why should everyone who lives within the District 65/District 202 school boundaries care?  Two simple reasons – tax dollars and achievement. 

District 65 receives approximately 40% of our property taxes while District 202 receives 25%.  We need to vote in School Board elections to ensure the best representation to make investment decisions for our schools. 

In terms of achievement let’s focus on the contested race, District 202.  Evanston Township High School has attempted for over a decade to close the race-based achievement gap, with limited success.  Data from District 65’s 2016 African American Achievement report offers insights worth exploring.

Black and White students who were deemed “kindergarten-ready” when arriving in District 65 (based on ISEL’s four pre-reading skills) had an achievement gap of 2% in third grade, an incredibly narrow gap.  However, Black and White students who were not kindergarten-ready had an initial gap of 16%, which worsened to 29% by third grade.

Even more troubling – the percent of children arriving in District 65 kindergarten-ready continues to decline, as noted at a recent School Board meeting.  So, if our local data indicates that effective early childhood education can positively impact achievement, why don’t we focus more of our efforts and dollars here?

While District 65 has increased the number of students participating in their early childhood programs, one gap persists. Twenty seven percent of Black students do not attend any formal pre-school; the same is true for just 13% of White students.

What can we do to ensure all students are ready for kindergarten?  I’d encourage us to ask the District 202 candidates two questions:

Currently District 202 spends $22,273 (vs. $14,265 in District 65) per student and the District 202 Board and Administration frequently and accurately note that too many District 65 students arrive at ETHS under-prepared academically.  To address a root cause of the gap, would the candidates invest some of the District 202 budget to address a root cause – access to high-quality, early childhood programming for all?

Additionally, some ETHS School Board members have stated both that ETHS is responsible for educating every student that walks through its doors and also, when faced with unfavorable achievement data, that broader non-school factors make it difficult to impact achievement. 

At a February meeting those same Board members acknowledged that the Board has not discussed these broader factors in depth.  Will the candidates commit to conducting an in-depth analysis of non-school variables that impact kindergarten-readiness and thus the racial achievement gap?

Let’s hope the answer to both questions is yes.