School, community leaders discuss how funding impacts district

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DANVILLE, Ill. (WCIA) — Many people would say that education is one of the biggest keys to success, but an education costs money.

Funding is a concern for many school districts across the state, including Danville.

We’ve all heard it before: it takes a village to raise a child. Teachers often fall into that village, shaping young minds day after day.

But it can be a challenge, especially when you don’t have all the right resources.

“I’ve been in Danville district since 1990,” says Tracy Cherry.

She jumped at the opportunity to be the Danville High School principal two years ago, and associate principal six years ago as the first African American administrator there.

Cherry says she’s seen a lot of amazing things happen within the walls of her school, but of course, there are challenges.

“Funding has always been an issue in our state and in our district because the down-state schools pretty much always take a hit when it comes to funding,” says Cherry.

Illinois State Board of Education stats show the Danville district falls about ten percent below what the average Illinois school district gets in state dollars.

Taking a look at district demographics, black students make up the majority at nearly 44 percent.

So, what could more money mean for Danville students?

Cherry believes it’s “one-to-one technology education” and “college and career readiness.”

“I think that addresses the concern with equity and access for all students,” says Cherry.

One organization that tries to help students work against some of those issues they may be facing in their own lives is the Boys & Girls Club of Danville. It aims to provide a productive and safe environment for students.

“We provide services and programs for at-risk kids,” says Robert Gifford.

He has been directing the club for eight years.

“68 percent of our club kids come come from single family households. Those are single mothers, sometimes grandparents, that are taking care of their kids,” says Gifford. “They could be working one or two jobs to help provide for their children.”

He says when it comes to making sure students’ needs are met, it’s a team effort between families, club leaders, and district leaders.

That effort picked up quick when the pandemic hit.

“[The district has] gone out and purchased Chromebooks for all the kids so they can do online learning.” says Gifford. “We [at the club] have purchased over 100 iPads so kids all have an opportunity to do their homework.”

Students use the Boys & Girls club as a virtual learning space five days a week. Gifford says the kids are focused and dedicated.

But now, it’s about ensuring access to technology continues post-pandemic.

As for the number of students going to colleges and universities, the Danville district has stayed within the fifty percent range for the past five years. Compare that to the average Illinois school district in the seventy percent range.

Illinois Report Card: Danville District 118

“[The goal is] getting the older kids to understand the importance of taking that next step of either going to college, going to a junior college, getting some type of specialty training… and then bring those educations and skills back to our communities,” says Gifford.

More money could mean more programs to help with that, but despite any financial shortfalls, Tracy Cherry says it’s no excuse to not make the most of what you do have.

“I think the biggest thing that I can say about our students, and particularly our staff, is their dedication and their commitment to do the most for our students with probably the least amount of funding,” says Cherry.

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