Several suburban school districts will receive a portion of $ 87 million in additional school funding due to a coding error in the state’s funding formula that wrongly routed the money to Chicago Public Schools.
School district administrators say they welcome the additional money, though some acknowledge their portion will not be substantial enough to overcome state funding issues and their effect on local property taxes.
The amount owed to schools across the state range from $ 16.09 – yes, just over 16 bucks – to $ 5.2 million, with that largest sum earmarked for Elgin Area School District U-46.
“I’m certainly grateful that we’re seeing an increase in our funding,” said Tony Sanders, U-46 superintendent. “U-46, along with all large unit districts across the state of Illinois, we’re furthest from being fully funded.”
The district has 35,958 students, with 57% of them considered low-income. It is funded at 63% of what is considered adequate, according to the school funding formula.
Like many school district administrators, Sanders said the additional funding will help hire counselors, social workers and support staffers for new language learners to meet students’ social and emotional needs.
U-46 is among 14 school districts that are owed more than $ 1 million, including these from the Northwest suburbs: Algonquin-based Community Unit School District 300, due $ 2.6 million; Waukegan Community School District 60, due $ 2.1 million; Aurora East Unit School District 131, due $ 1.9 million; and Aurora West Unit School District 129, due $ 1.6 million.
A contractor hired during Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration miscalculated funding and overcounted students attending charter schools in districts where there were more than one charter school, said Jaclyn Matthews, an Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman.
The mistake affected the state’s evidence-based funding formula, which determines how much extra money the state gives each school district. Signed into law in 2017, the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act aims to address the financial gap between the most funded and the under-resourced schools.
The formula takes into account different student population needs, such as those in special education and new English language learners, to determine an “adequacy target,” or the dollar amount necessary for a school district to be properly funded, according to ISBE. State support for better-funded districts stays the same, but any new funding goes to schools determined by the formula to be underfunded.
The funding is expected to be distributed by the end of the school year, Matthews said.
The number of school districts owed between $ 100,000 and $ 500,000 is 168, according to ISBE. Warren Township High School District 121 in Lake County is among that pool, receiving more than $ 137,000.
“The extra money is helpful but is not going to help us enough,” said Michael Engel, assistant superintendent of business operations for the district.
The district has a budget deficit of more than $ 1 million. For the current budget year ending June 30, the district’s funding level is at 70% of what it needs to be considered fully funded, according to the ISBE.
The school district has run a deficit for six years. Engel said that over the years, 79 jobs have been cut, including 48 teachers and three administrators.
Without the proper funding, Engel said, “classroom sizes go up, mental health support and academic support goes down, and sports and activities disappear.”
The district is hoping voters in a referendum will approve a property tax increase of 60 cents for every $ 100 in assessed valuation. If approved June 28, it would generate $ 13.25 million in additional revenue annually, officials have said.
Freshman sports programs are already eliminated for the next school year, but if the tax increase is rejected, all sports will be cut, the district says. The school day would be reduced from an eight- to a seven-period day as educators teaching art, music and business are cut, Engel said.
A lack of funding from the state is part of the problem, Engel said, and other districts have similar concerns.
No new school funding was available for fiscal year 2021, as the state dealt with its own budget woes. The state budget that goes into effect July 1 adds $ 350 million in new funding, which will be distributed based on the funding formula.
“For all our schools, we’re still far too reliant on property taxes, which leads to inequities in different schools,” said Mikkel Storaasli, Grayslake Community High School District 127 superintendent. “Students who live in apartments or public housing should have the same quality education as students living in a wealthier area.”
He’s grateful for state officials’ attention to the funding gaps in the school districts, “but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
When Storaasli heard about the coding error, he wasn’t shocked.
“The calculations and the distribution of funds is a little bit of a black box,” he said.
More transparency to how specific numbers are calculated would be helpful, he said. The state owes the district more than $ 140,000. The district is at 77% of the adequacy target, according to ISBE.
While the state owes several districts large sums, 565 school districts are owed less than $ 100,000.