Their school board members have tried. Their teachers have tried. Their parents have tried. On Monday, local high school students took it upon themselves to lobby on their own behalf to state leaders to fully fund their education.
It may have been the first day of summer break, but 11 O’Fallon Township High School students were working on a real-life civics lesson as they hand delivered a petition with nearly 1,000 signatures to the office of state Rep. LaToya Greenwood (D-114) at her East St. Louis office. Signatures including about 700 students from OTHS and about 300 from Belleville East High School.
Kristin Strubhart, an adviser and teacher at OTHS, said the petition was the follow-up result of the “tremendous amount of student activism at OTHS last month in response to the proposed school budget cuts.”
“In a continuation of the same theme, students have gathered almost (1,000) signatures on a petition asking the Illinois General Assembly to fund education,” she said.
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“Everyone is trying to get Illinois to fund education,” Strubhart said.
OTHS seniors Olivia Kloeckner, Duron Jones and Brent Anderson, who will all graduate this weekend, played vital roles in garnering the attention of many with their collective efforts in recent months, and obtaining petition signatures.
“As a student body, we just really came together and saw what an impact we can have when we all join forces and had a common focus of what we wanted to accomplish. We had an emergency meeting, so that was really nice to see, and from there, we just had a bunch of student input. We have tons of kids here today with you, and hopefully you’ll see our faces again soon and more in the future,” Kloeckner said.
“This is the first group of students to visit me here at my office and speak on issues so passionately. So I was very impressed and very honored to receive the petitions,” Rep. Greenwood said.
Lack of state funding for education is an issue Greenwood said she is working on currently with colleagues in Springfield as a member of the Appropriations: Elementary and Secondary (K-12) Education Committee.
“The issue of equitable funding throughout the state of Illinois is an important one, and one that we have been working on since January, and will continue to work on. So I thank you so much for standing up and lending your voice to the issue. I’ll take this with me to Springfield today to talk about the students I met today and the importance of it,” Greenwood told the students.
Strubhart said, just because school session is over for this year, doesn’t mean the issues are.
“We are going to be facing the same problems again next year until the state starts paying the money to our schools and our children,” Strubhart said.
Michael Warren said he is looking forward to his senior year at OTHS, but has concerns that recent budget cuts to programs, teachers and staff will affect him and all of the students he represents as student body president.
“I have a lot of friends who are in activities that were proposed to be cut, and they weren’t going to stop there,” Warren said.
What the petition said
“We, the people of O’Fallon, Illinois, demand a fair and equitable way to properly fund all public schools. A strong public education system is essential to the individual and collective well-being of our state, our communities, our economy, and the guarantee of access to a free and quality public education is a right accorded to every student. Every student in our schools deserve equal opportunity and access to highly qualified teachers, staff, and instructional resources on day one of each school year. We call on our elected leaders to put our students and our schools first, we call on them to make public education a priority, we call on them to fund public education so that every student gets the world class education they deserve.”