It has been nearly 30 years since the Illinois legislature created a state funding stream for Thomas Metcalf School and University Laboratory High School, the two schools operated by Illinois State University College of Education in Bloomington-Normal, Ill.
Robert Dean, the superintendent of the laboratory schools, said it was that legislation --- which also set a 1,000-student enrollment cap --- that stabilized funding and allowed the schools to thrive despite troubling economic times. The general state aid, the equivalent to Iowa's per pupil funding, provides about 65 percent of the schools' $8.3 million budget. The university provides between 12 and 14 percent for building maintenance and campus services, like Internet.
"Without that we would have the same difficulty or challenges that many other labs schools have had," said Dean. "We couldn't run the programs we offer. We wouldn't be viewed as one of the premier schools in the state, and way beyond that actually."
Dean, who is in his 26th year at ISU, said lab schools nationwide are finding it more difficult to compete for dwindling higher education dollars. He said the Illinois legislation was spurred by an attempt by university officials to close the lab schools in the late '70s.
Now, the schools are among the most sought after preK-12 schools in the state. Dean said the admission rate at Metcalf, which serves 400 students in preschool through eighth grade, is one in 10. At the high school, where class sizes are larger, the admission rate is one in three.
Even more importantly though, is the opportunities the schools provide for pre-service education teachers, Dean said. On average, the university graduates about 1,200 new teachers each year. The lab schools serve about 1,500 pre-service teachers a year, for a total of about 60,000 contact hours. The schools have about 100 certified employees.