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Flatlined: How Illinois Shortchanges Rural Students

From: 2 below zero
Series: Chicago Public Radio Documentaries by Melby/Richard
Length: 26:37

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This documentary shows how students in small town schools suffer because of the way Illinois funds its public schools. Read the full description.

Zachandbryant_small Winner of a 2007 Sigma Delta Chi award for best radio documentary, "Flatlined" explores the inequities of American school funding. In the small town of La Harpe, Illinois, high school students don't have access to classes most suburban kids take for granted. Not Spanish, not Calculus, not even Pre-calc. That's because La Harpe's homes and farms generate little property tax revenue. And in America, that's how schools get a significant portion of their funding. "Flatlined: How Illinois Shortchanges Rural Students," starts in the La Harpe high school gym, where the Sweetheart Dance is in full swing.

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Piece Description

Winner of a 2007 Sigma Delta Chi award for best radio documentary, "Flatlined" explores the inequities of American school funding. In the small town of La Harpe, Illinois, high school students don't have access to classes most suburban kids take for granted. Not Spanish, not Calculus, not even Pre-calc. That's because La Harpe's homes and farms generate little property tax revenue. And in America, that's how schools get a significant portion of their funding. "Flatlined: How Illinois Shortchanges Rural Students," starts in the La Harpe high school gym, where the Sweetheart Dance is in full swing.

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Review of Flatlined: How Illinois Shortchanges Rural Students

This is a good piece on a great topic that is not covered enough - the challenges facing rural schools, in particular funding inequities. There is a lot of important information explored in this piece. For example, in La Harpe, IL, where the population peaked in the year 1870, the school superintendent doubles as the elementary school principal and property values are 10 times less than in parts of suburban Chicago. School funding is based heavily on property taxes, and in real dollars, the value of property in La Harpe and many rural areas is going down. It's a huge problem in many states, and in IL in particular. The piece explains the "property tax as driver of school funding" problem and discusses some of the history and politics of school funding. The piece starts at the high school in La Harpe, where residents are about to vote on whether to merge with two nearby high schools and raise property taxes. The piece introduces us to many experts and officials who help describe the history and politics of the rural/ urban (or rich/ poor) school divide. The piece also takes us to another area of IL, one of the first consolidated school systems in the state, where families are being asked to pay as much as $400 to enroll their kids in extracurricular activites. It's an information rich documentary that would fit well in a series or discussion about education funding. That said, I think the documentary is a bit flat in spots and might suffer from being about too many ideas, too many issues. I also felt that overall in this piece I was being "told" a lot by the producers and the experts, but I didn't get to "see" a lot for myself. The students at the school, the superintendent/ principal, the family from the consolidated school district - these were all characters that had a huge stake in the issues, and yet I felt like their voices, their characters were not central enough to the story. I wished the piece had more, fuller chracters who played a more central role in helping me care about this issue. Many of the facts were shocking and revealing and well told, but I din't feel the human side of the story enough.

Broadcast History

Chicago Public Radio, April 2006. KFAI, Minneapolis, June 2006.

Transcript

Dance
SFX: Fade in Sweetheart Dance music

Narrator/Diane: It?s a couple days before Valentine?s Day, and we?re at the Sweetheart Dance in the La Harpe high school gym.

Narrator/Todd: Red and gold metallic strips are draped mid-court around the dance floor. Kids quiver under a disco ball like a school of fish in choppy water.

Narrator/Diane: The girls are wearing sparkly strapless dresses. Some drove a half-hour away today to have their hair sculpted into elaborate up-dos. Those who wore heels are now barefoot; others are in flip-flops.

Narrator/Todd: And a few boys sport sunglasses on their heads, slick with gel.

Narrator/Diane: This may be one of the last dances ever at La Harpe High. Enrollment here is down to 127 students.

Narrator/Todd: A proposal to merge the high school with two neighboring towns is soon to be voted on here. If it passes, La Harpe High will close for good....
Read the full transcript

Intro and Outro

INTRO:

To pay for public schools, Illinois relies more heavily on local property taxes than most states.

This works in property-rich districts. Schools in Chicago's wealthier north and northwest suburbs do better under this formula than anywhere else.

But rural schools are paying a price.

In the city of La Harpe, about halfway between Chicago and St. Louis, high school students don't have access to classes suburban kids take for granted. Not Spanish, not Calculus, not even Pre-calc. That's because La Harpe?s homes and farms generate less property tax revenue for the schools than they did about 20 years ago.

As part of our Chicago Matters: Valuing Education series, producers Todd Melby and Diane Richard spent time in several rural Illinois districts to see whether state funding decisions shortchange schools in small towns. Their documentary, called Flatlined: How Illinois Shortchanges Rural Students, starts in the La Harpe high school gym, where the Sweetheart Dance is in full swing.

OUTRO:

Orginally aired on Chicago Public Radio.

Additional Files

Related Website

http://www.chicagopublicradio.org/programs/specials/chicagomatters/matters.asp