Highland News Leader

School year still in peril despite passage of Illinois budget

There was a collective sigh of relief breathed around the state earlier this month after lawmakers approved a budget in Illinois for the first time since 2015.

But a budget without a decision on education funding reform could still leave local school districts gasping for cash as they set to open their doors next month for a new year.

The Illinois House overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a spending plan and increase in state income taxes earlier July 6 after the Senate also did so a couple days before.

However, the General Assembly and governor still need to come to an accord on a funding formula to distribute money to schools.

“The passing of the budget and the BIMP (Budget Implementation Bill) sets the allocation for education, but it requires that the money be distributed based on an evidence-based formula,” said Highland Schools Superintendent Mike Sutton.

But as of now, there is no such formula recorded in state statues, and because of the wording in the new budget, the formula used in the past to determine school funding allocations is no longer allowed. In short, despite there being a budget, taxes being collected, and classes ready to begin, schools will not get any general state aid without some sort of funding bill being passed and signed into law.

The General Assembly has already approved a new school funding formula through the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act, also known as Senate Bill 1 (SB1). 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 Gov. 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 new formula under Senate Bill 1 would mean about $105,000 in additional funding per year for the Highland School District, Sutton said.

But the bill is currently being held for consideration, which means it hasn’t yet reached the governor’s desk.

An amendment has also been introduced, Senate Bill 1124, which attempts to address Rauner’s concerns about the funding for Chicago, but it has not yet come up for a vote.

Without a compromise of a veto override, schools would be forced to make due with only local tax dollars for operations. Sutton said previously that the Highland district could afford a half-year of classes without any state money, but it would be busted after that.

The state currently owes Highland School District about $1.5 million from last school year — a calculation made under the old funding formula.

“As far as dollars owed by the state, those are vouchered, and (we are) waiting for dollars to become available for distribution,” Sutton said.

When that will be is anyone’s guess.

“We expect to receive them at some point, but do not know when,” Sutton said.

Reporter Alexis Cortes contributed to this story.