State funding for K-12 schools will increase for O’Fallon and Shiloh school districts next year under Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal on how the way state aid would be calculated.
The change would end the practice of “prorating” state payments to schools, which local school officials believe is long overdue.
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) recently released projections showing how much state aid will be directed to each school district under Rauner’s plan.
State aid is calculated under a formula based on a district’s enrollment, the number and percentage of students that live in poverty and property values of a district.
In recent years, the state has paid only 89 to 92 percent of what it owes to school districts, which often led to millions shortchanged for local districts.
Rauner’s proposal would end that practice and fully fund the districts, according to a release from ISBE.
Under the governor’s plan, O’Fallon School District 90 would see a $906,196 million in general state aid during fiscal year 2017 if pro-ration is ended, while Shiloh School District 85 would receive an additional $212,430 under Rauner’s plan.
District 90 received $6.076 million in general state aid during fiscal year 2016.
District 85, on the other hand, received $1.45 million in general state aid.
But O’Fallon School District 203 would see a $164,618 increase and Central School District 104 would receive an additional $49,892 increase under the plan.
O’Fallon Disrtrict 90 Superintendent Carrie Hruby said an end to the state’s general state aid pro-ration would be a positive for her elementary school district. She said Rauner’s proposal would allow District 90 to return to doing what's best for students, rather than having a constant focus on what will be reduced from the districts' budget.
“Additional state funds could be used to increase elective opportunities for junior high students, reduce class sizes, add technology to classrooms, and refresh curricular materials,” she said.
The continued pro-rations of state funding in recent years has placed most school districts, including the ones in O’Fallon and Shiloh school, in a difficult position. Many have been been left with no alternative, but to solve revenues problems with expenditures solutions.
While Hruby said it’s healthy for a school district to tighten the belt on expenditures, but that’s “only for so long.”
“If that is forced, year after year, it begins to strangle a district,” she said. “Many districts in the state are feeling that now.”
Hruby said it's difficult to know what solutions the state might bring, and how temporary they may be.
But Central District 104 Superintendent John Bute is cautiously optimistic about Rauner’s plan which would take effect in fiscal year 2017.
District 104 received $448,426 in fiscal year 2016.
Bute said in addition to Rauner’s proposal, there are now multiple funding discussions and multiple potential pieces of legislation being considered by the state.
In the meantime, “Illinois ranks 50 out of 50 states in its funding for education,” he said.
“We are hopeful that a fair funding mechanism will emerge,” Bute said. “However, none have been signed into law.”
Bute said any new funding dollars District 104 would receive, would be applied to reduce the district’s operating deficits.
However, he said the switch in how schools are funded in Illinois is long overdue.
“The current funding formula is cumbersome and no longer meets the needs of most school districts,” Bute said.
It’s unknown if Rauner’s proposal would be a temporary fix by the state because the state still does not have the revenue to meet its current obligations, Bute said.
“Any future obligations would be suspect without additional revenues,” he said.
O’Fallon District 203 Superintendent Darcy Benway said Rauner’s proposal is a step in the right direction
“But (it) provides only a Band-Aid to the equity and adequacy issues related to funding Illinois public schools,” she said.
Benway hopes Rauner’s proposal will begin conversations at the state level, which will support the students and help bring them to levels needed “to be competitive in a global society.”
District 203 received $5.01 million in general state aid in fiscal year 2016. Under Rauner’s plan, the district would receive an additional $164,618 in fiscal year 2017.
Benway said any new dollars District 203 would receive will be applied to reduce the deficit until OTHS is again operating in the black.
“This change long is overdue, but still not adequate,” she said.
But Benway believes until the state fixes its financial issues, “funding for schools will remain in jeopardy.”
Shiloh School District 85 Superintendent Dale Sauer on Monday was hopeful that Rauner’s plan will be approved.
“My concern is that I am not sure where the revenue for this is coming from and if it is sustainable,” he said.
Sauer noted the District 85 has lost about $1.3 million in general state aid over the past seven years.
Doubts remain that the district will ever recoup that money from the state, he said.
“If the district could get on the positive side of the budget, it would look to reinstate some positions and programs lost over the last few years,” he said.
Mark Hodapp: 618-239-2688