Local school leaders say they were relieved to see lawmakers approve a budget in Illinois for the first time since 2015. But they’re left waiting for a decision on school funding reform.
The Illinois House overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a spending plan and increase in state income taxes Thursday after the Senate did so Tuesday.
The legislature still needs to agree on a funding formula to distribute money to schools, so officials like Belleville District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman say they will continue watching Springfield.
“That’s like ... them saying, ‘Well, we have a budget but no money’s coming your direction.’ That equals not having a budget, actually, for us,” Klosterman said. “It would create the same challenges.”
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Klosterman said passing a budget was “certainly a big step.” Now, he and others in the metro-east say they hope state leaders take action on a funding model before students return to school in August.
The General Assembly previously approved a new school funding formula through the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act, also known as Senate Bill 1. It would send new money to areas with the greatest need after the current formula created the nation’s widest gap between low- and high-income school districts.
But Rauner has promised to veto that legislation because he objects to the amount of money it would send to Chicago Public Schools, which he compared to a bailout.
The bill is currently being held for consideration, which means it hasn’t yet reached the governor’s desk.
An amendment has been introduced, Senate Bill 1124, but hasn’t gone to a vote.
In a statement, East St. Louis District 189 Superintendent Arthur Culver urged lawmakers to change the current formula, which he said is inequitable. District 189 serves more than 6,000 children in 10 schools.
“We need to end the state’s fundamentally unfair education funding system so that every child in Illinois has access to a great education regardless of how much their community can contribute locally towards their education,” Culver stated.
Illinois school districts rely heavily on property taxes for revenue.
We need to have revenue that we can count on.
Jeff Dosier, Belleville District 201 superintendent, on state funding
Klosterman said if there’s no decision before school starts in August, the district wouldn’t receive general state aid, which is money school districts receive based primarily on their local property wealth.
“That would be a significant hit for us,” he said.
District 118’s 11 schools serve almost 4,000 students. Officials previously calculated that the district could operate until September without money from the state.
Klosterman said the district is still waiting for the state to pay the $2.3 million that it was owed last fiscal year. That money is a reimbursement for services the district is required to provide, including transportation and special education.
Superintendent Jeff Dosier said Belleville District 201 also has a backlog of reimbursements — a little more than $2.6 million.
Under Senate Bill 1, metro-east school districts could expect to see increases in funding if the legislation passes. No district would receive less money from the state than it did in the 2016-17 school year.
District 201 would receive an estimated $1.9 million more, the second highest increase in St. Clair and Madison counties.
Belleville District 118 and East St. Louis District 189 would each receive about $1.4 million more.
Edwardsville District 7 would see a much smaller increase — less than $300,000. But District 7 Superintendent Lynda Andre said in an email to the News-Democrat that Senate Bill 1 doesn’t have a negative impact on the district, like some other proposals would have potentially had.
She described the legislation as a “slight improvement.”
Dosier said he’s optimistic that the schools can recover from the financially difficult times in the past — not because they might be getting more money, but because it might be paid to them on a regular, timely basis with a budget solution.
“We need to have revenue that we can count on,” he said.
Without a new school funding formula, Dosier estimated Belleville East High School and Belleville West High School could operate until March or April.
In higher education, Southern Illinois University System President Randy Dunn said in a statement that its schools will have “much needed financial stability” moving forward because of the state budget. He said Illinois will be providing money for MAP grant financial aid for SIU’s 6,000 recipients.
“With the veto override and the enactment of the state’s budget, SIU’s campuses can return their full focus to the most important job we do — educating the leaders of tomorrow,” Dunn stated.
Those campuses include Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The entire system serves 30,000 students.