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.
As part of the series “Chicago Matters: Valuing Education,” producers Todd Melby and Diane Richard spent time in several rural Illinois districts to see whether state funding decisions shortchange schools in small towns
Judges said: “The narrative-style writing and use of natural sound easily hooked the judges from the beginning. The dual-host format was refreshing and added to the diversity of voices. The reporters introduced us to many of the story’s characters, and capturing sound and interviews on different locations was a plus. Perhaps the most notable aspect of this documentary was the subject: inadequate educational systems and funding. It is an incredibly important — and difficult — topic to cover.”
The five-month project resulted in a 29-minute documentary. Diane Richard: “We felt passionately about reporting a story that reflected non-urban issues, given that funding shortfalls hit rural districts so hard. I grew up in Evanston, a Chicago suburb, and I was oblivious to the property-tax wealth I was lucky to benefit from.”
Todd Melby: “I spent two years in high school in rural North Dakota, where I experienced the suburban/rural disparity firsthand.”
Along with editor Robbie Harris, Melby and Richard were gratified to learn that stations in several smaller cities in Illinois aired their documentary.
“Well-produced radio documentaries are an underrated form of narrative for journalism,” Melby said. “At their best, radio docs give listeners a chance to understand people’s lives without pummeling them with mind-numbing facts.”