SPRINGFIELD — Illinois hasn’t met its end of the bargain in funding the school districts this year — and it probably won’t next year, state education officials said Tuesday.

By Anthony Brino

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois hasn’t met its end of the bargain in funding the school districts this year — and it probably won’t next year, state education officials said Tuesday.

The state is supposed to help each district provide at least $6,119 for each student each year. This aid is combined with local property tax revenue and federal funding.

But this fiscal year, the per-pupil funding was $5,953, or 95 percent of the required spending, because the state did not provide enough aid, said Illinois State Board of Education superintendent Chris Koch told House Education Appropriations Committee members. The fiscal year ends June 30.

Koch said general state aid “remains the most equitable distribution of funding that we have,” to help narrow the gap between the wealthiest schools with access to more tax revenue and the poorest schools with less tax revenue at their disposal.

The Illinois State Board of Education, or ISBE, has seen its budget decrease over the past few years in federal and state aid.

In the 2010-11 budget year, ISBE had a budget of $11.2 billion, with about $7 billion coming from the state. For the current year, it’s working with a budget of $10.3 billion.

ISBE asked for $10 billion next year, but Gov. Pat Quinn has proposed $9.78 billion — a 2.2 percent decrease.

No one from the governor’s budget office was available for comment.

“There’s a number of districts in the state that are highly dependent on general state aid,” said Koch, referring to districts in lower-income neighborhoods without large property tax bases.

One of them is the Alton School District, where about 60 percent of the students come from low-income families, according to data compiled by education researchers at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

Chris Norman, the Alton School District’s finance director, said the district has been trying to do more with less over the past few years.

Norman said Alton spends about $7,700 per student, of which about $1,700 came from the state and the remainder from property tax revenue and the federal government.

“When you start talking about general state aid cuts, that’s huge,” said Norman.

Some districts are far less dependent on state aid. So-called flat grant districts in areas with a high property tax base receive only $215 per student, said Matt Vanover, spokesman for ISBE.

For Alton, said Norman, the general state aid has held relatively steady, which has helped the district cope with declining property tax revenue.

To stretch its budget, Norman said, the district has been increasing class sizes, almost to the limit — up to 25 students kindergarten to second grade and 30 for third grade and up.

The district has kept two popular programs, music and athletics, he said.

“We’ve tried to not tear apart programs we think are important,” Norman said.

The uncertainty over state education funding makes it hard for districts to plan ahead, said Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, an education advocacy group.

That some schools aren’t getting the promised per-student funding “makes it that much tougher for schools and teachers to implement reforms and meet student needs,” said Steans.

Some Illinois House lawmakers expressed an interest in changing how the state helps districts meet their per-student funding.

State Rep. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, said, “I think this is just the latest in a long series of very clear pieces of evidence that we in the General Assembly really ought to look under the hood of the funding formula.”

State Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville — who’s also the superintendent of the Hutsonville School District — suggested that ISBE divert funding from other programs, such as advanced placement, to support per-student funding.

“I think the documents I’ve seen from the state board of education in the past have indicated that in order of priorities, general state aid foundation level is number one,” he said.

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  1. how to fund a new staff in 5th ward school with state deficit?

    Does anyone know the dollar amount impact to the Evanston schools?

    I'm assuming there will be an impact, as we do have children who receive free/reduced lunch in D65, and the state also helps fund for special education.

    Has the school board planned for this lack of money yet for next year?

    Also, if the referendum passes, how does the school board propose continued staffing of current schools with yet more lack of funding?

    How will the school board staff the new school?

    How much will they have to increase property taxes in order to keep current staffing and staff the new 5th ward school with the bare minimums to meet federal requirements?  What dollar amount are we talking here per $200,000 of value in house?


    1. Numbers don’t add up at District 65

      By now people should know that the State of Illinois is in dire financial shape. There have been numerous articles and examples highlighting the problems the state is facing. What does that mean for District 65, District 202 and the City of Evanston? We're not going to be getting bailed out by the state, we'll be getting less money from the state, and in fact we're likely going to assume more costs from the state.

      Go to District 65 Website and take a look at the current budget forecast which was recently revised.(the new and improved version) Total State Revenue is budgeted to increase from $11.6mm in Fiscal 2011-2012 to $13.3mm in Fiscal 2016-2017 or up 15% in 5 years. Given the tenor of this article, that assumed growth in money from the State may not materialize. Dr. Murphy mentioned that District 65 assumes the CPI increases 2.5% each year, but today the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke said the Fed is targetting inflation of 2%, and this year it will likely be lower. Maybe D65 has better inflation forecasters than the Fed, but it seems prudent to assume 2% for our projections.

      Even with D65 more aggressive assumptions, the Budget shows a deficit of $3.9mm by Fiscal 2016-2017.

      And that's before a New School! How much is it going to cost to operate the proposed school? I've heard numbers of $1mm, $1.5mm, $2mm. Pick a number and it's likely to be higher.

      So how do we pay for this? Either cut resources at existing schools to staff the proposed new school or D65 and the School Board will come back to the community and ask for another tax hike through an operating referendum in another year or two.

      Vote NO for the School Referendum.

      1. Bigger deficit

        Good point – if the State of Illinois requires local school districts to fund their portion of teacher's pensions, then the D65 deficit will grow, further stressing the budget. Back to my earlier point, more staff reductions will be required, remember labor costs at D65 account for 80% + of expenses, else another special tax referendum will have to be passed. This pension issue will also likely impact D202, so they can join the party and ask everyone to also pay more in taxes.

        1. Funding- taxes- pensions

          I agree with you on this issue.

          I currently work as a speech pathologist in public schools in Skokie.    Skokie is also Riffing (reducing in force) many staff too- Although the superintendent there has chosen to be honest about the crisis, and is asking the citizens to pay for bussing services next year in order to keep as many staff (and aides) as possible in the classrooms.  I applaud him for being forthcoming with the Skokie citizens, even though it is making many of them angry.  He is putting his own job security second to do what is best for kids-keeping teachers in the classrooms. 

               All of us teachers have had to sacrifice this year to do what is best for kids- I bring in food for kids for snacks/prize bin, I buy my own materials, I pay for my own professional development conferences. In the past, the schools had money for these things.   After speaking to teacher friends in Evanston, I know they are doing the same.  Where is the honesty from Hardy Murphy about this?    Instead, he tells us in Evanston that finances are great!  He "found" 4 million dollars! 

          I don't know how much money the state owes Evanston, but the State owes my Skokie District  $817,000, and Evanston is roughly 5-6 times the size of my district (there are several districts in Skokie).    My district has more low income students than Evanston overall, but considering D65 is much bigger, I'm assuming that we will face a simliar if not greater budget crisis.

          I am a huge cheerleader for kids everywhere.  I would be first in line to pay more taxes for education if I knew the money was to be used in their best interest.

          However, I can not support the referendum for several reasons:

          1.   Hardy Murphy is cutting so many support staff this year.   He says it's because many 8th graders are graduating, so they can reduce the numbers.   What about incoming kindergarteners?    The fact that he mysteriously found 4 million dollars to patch the budget deficit almost overnight is suspect to me because I know that schools everywhere are struggling to pay the bills.   Almost all of our teaching assistants in Skokie are certified teachers who can not find teaching jobs. No districts are hiring regular education teachers due to budget constraints.  

          I work with kids who need aides to be successful in inclusion.   These people are crucial to the success of all students.   I am concerned that 10 of them were riffed last week to reduce the deficit.

          2.  How will a new school be staffed?  Unless property taxes go up again, it will be impossible to staff, while maintaining the integrity of staffing in other schools.  Will the residents of the city vote for increases again in a few years?   I don't know.  Will you all?    The fact that the money to staff the school has not even been discussed is very concerning to me.  If Hardy Murphy and the school board would be more forthcoming with the residents about the situation, I would have more faith that they would do what is best for all children in D65.

           After seeing the comments by Katie Bailey that the schools can upgrade STEM/lockers/welcome centers without voter approval, I definitely think they should do this.    I will support them in this decision to increase my taxes to pay for these things.  When at Northwestern, I student taught at Haven Junior High. I know that the buildling desperately needs to be fixed up, and would gladly pitch in to help there. 

             If Hardy Murphy, the school board, or the Citizens group who is pushing for this referendum came out with the facts of how they will staff the new school,  how much tax increases this means, and how they will balance the budget when teacher pensions become a property tax payer "problem" perhaps I would change my mind too.  At this point, I lack faith that our educational leaders in this community are doing what is best for kids, so I will vote no.





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