A new federal report found students in high-poverty districts receive less funding than those in low-poverty districts across the country but that is not the case in the metro-east.
Local school districts with a high percentage of students from low-income families actually spend more per pupil than districts with fewer low-income students, according to districts reviewed by the Belleville News-Democrat.
With 97 percent of its students from low-income families, East St. Louis School District 189 spends $16,650 per pupil, according to the 2012 Illinois School Report Card. In comparison, Belleville School District 118, which has 60 percent low-income students, spends $10,134 per pupil and O'Fallon District 90, which has 20.4 percent low-income students, spends $8,792 per student.
The state average per pupil is $11,664 with 49 percent low-income students.
The 52-page federal report was released this week by the Equity and Excellence Commission, an advisory group created by Congress to look into the disparity in education funding.
"I believe that all of our students in all 27 districts in St. Clair County are aiming for the goal of meeting high standards," said Susan Sarfaty, superintendent of the St. Clair County Regional Office of Education. "In regards to funding, our low-income schools receive more funds from the state than our higher income districts."
The report recommends states supply additional resources to "address the academic and other needs of low-income students ... and for the districts and schools serving large concentrations of low-income students."
Granite City Superintendent Harry Briggs said he isn't surprised that his district -- nearly 60 percent low-income and rising -- doesn't match the study.
"Kids who come from backgrounds where they may be more at risk, where there isn't a lot of money, require more services," he said.
The federal report, written by leading experts in education, also recommends more spending on preschool in an effort to ensure all low-income children can attend high-quality programs.
"Universal access to high-quality early learning programs must be a matter of the highest national priority, with a special priority for children in our poorest communities," the report states.
Nationwide only 65 percent of low-income 4-year-olds attend a preschool program compared to 90 percent of 4-year-olds from high-income families, according to the report.
Contrary to the study, several local school districts offer pre-school programs at no cost to low-income families including East St. Louis District 189 and Belleville District 118. District 189 spokeswoman Kim Roberson said 219 students are enrolled in the free full-day program available to 3- and 4- year-olds with an additional 10 students on the waiting list.
Belleville District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said the district's pre-kindergarten program, which is provided through a state grant, currently serves 220 half-day students. "We will serve the neediest students from the list of interested families," he said. "There is no cost to parents."
As a result of state funding being cut, Klosterman said the district has reduced the number of pre-kindergarten classes offered. "At our peak we were able to offer nine classrooms, with four of those being full day," he said. "We now are at 5.5 (classrooms) with all of them being half-day."
Granite City has 400 students in pre-kindergarten: about half are special education students identified with disabilities, and the other seats are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. At times the waiting list is over 100 students, Briggs said.
"We have a very good program; we'd like it to be more, but it's what we can afford," he said.
While the state's funding cuts hurt, Briggs said they have made it a priority to keep the program - though they have considered cutting transportation to save money. Other districts have cut preschool entirely, he said, and the percentages received from the remaining grants are dwindling.
Sarfaty said there is "inadequate" funding to fill the demand for preschool education, which she described as "extremely important."
"It makes a tremendous difference in the academic success of children," she said. "I think even more so for low-income students."
President Barack Obama also urged the availability of public preschool for 4-year-olds during his State of the Union address earlier this month. But Briggs said that hasn't seemed to be a priority at the state and federal level for years.
"Everyone, including the president, says we're putting more money into early childhood, but that money has declined over the years," Briggs said. "We have continued to offer the program because we think it gives our kids a head start. They need that ... We've seen very good results."