Several suburban school districts will receive part of $87 million in additional school funding due to a coding error in the state funding formula that incorrectly routed money to Chicago public schools.
School district administrators say they welcome the extra money, though some acknowledge their share won’t be large enough to overcome state funding issues and their effect on local property taxes.
The amount owed to schools across the state ranges from $16.09 — yes, just over $16 — to $5.2 million, with the largest amount earmarked for the U-46 School District in the Greater Washington area. Elgin.
“I am certainly grateful that we are seeing an increase in our funding,” said U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders. “U-46, along with all major Illinois state unit districts, we are the furthest from being fully funded.”
Like many school district administrators, Sanders said the additional funding will help hire counselors, social workers and support staff for new language learners to meet students’ social and emotional needs.
U-46 is among 14 school districts that owe more than $1 million, including those in the suburbs: Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300, which owes $2.6 million; Waukegan Community District 60, owed $2.1 million; Aurora East District 131, owed $1.9 million; and Aurora West School District 129, owed $1.6 million.
A contractor hired under Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration miscalculated funding and overestimated students attending charter schools in districts where there was more than one charter school, said Council spokeswoman Jaclyn Matthews. of Illinois State Education.
The error affected the state’s evidence-based funding formula, which determines how much additional money the state gives to each school district. Signed into law in 2017, the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act aims to close the financial gap between the most funded schools and those that are under-resourced.
The formula takes into account the different needs of the student population, such as those in special education and new English language learners, to determine a “fit goal”, or the dollar amount needed for a school district is properly funded, according to the ISBE. State support for better-funded districts remains 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 the ISBE. Warren Township High School District 121 in Lake County is among that group, receiving more than $137,000.
“The extra money is helpful but it won’t help us enough,” said Michael Engel, assistant superintendent of business operations for the district.
The district has a budget deficit of over a million dollars. 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 been in the red 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 go down, and sports and activities disappear.”
The district hopes voters will approve in a referendum a property tax increase of 60 cents for every $100 of property assessment. If approved on June 28, it would generate $13.25 million in additional revenue per year, officials said.
Freshman sports programs are already being cut for the next school year, but if the tax increase is defeated, all sports will be cut, according to the district. The school day would be cut from eight to seven periods as educators teaching art, music and business are cut, Engel said.
A lack of state funding 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 issues. The state budget that takes effect July 1 adds $350 million in new funding, which will be distributed according to the funding formula.
“For all of our schools, we still rely far too heavily on property taxes, which leads to inequities at different schools,” said Mikkel Storaasli, District 127 Superintendent of Grayslake Community High School. “Students who live in apartments or public housing should have the same quality of education as students living in a more affluent area.”
He’s grateful for the attention state officials are paying to funding shortfalls in 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 allocation of funds is a bit of a black box,” he said.
Greater transparency on how specific numbers are calculated would help, he said. The state owes the district more than $140,000. The district is at 77% of the adequacy target, according to the ISBE.
While the state owes large sums to several districts, 565 school districts owe less than $100,000.