Highland News Leader

State will restore only a portion of the money it earlier promised to schools

Nearly 600 of the 800 Illinois school districts will have $97 million in state funding restored after a budget deal brokered last month between Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative leaders cut money for education, with about one-third going to Chicago schools and the rest scattered among the other districts.

Highland District 5 and Wesclin District 3 are among 546 school districts identified in the plan that will get about three-quarters of the money that had been cut under the budget deal signed into law last month by the governor.

The deal means Highland will have $128,514 of a $174,511 cut restored, while Wesclin will receive $66,704 of the $90,578 it was originally promised.

Meanwhile, only 32 school districts, including Triad Unit 2 and Breese District 12, will get 95 percent of the cut restored. Triad will get $203,700 back. Breese District 12 will get $26,570 back.

The remaining 278 districts, including Central District 71 in Breese, were determined not to be eligible.

But Highland Superintendent Mike Sutton said on Friday the plan will not bring any new money to his district.

“This is money we had already planned and budgeted for,” he said.

In fact, Sutton said he was more surprised “when the $174,511 was taken in the first place.”

The $46,000 loss, however, will not be as significant as it was first announced, he said.

“But we are happy that we qualify for the hold-harmless of 73.6 percent,” Sutton added.

Lawmakers heard testimony on the proposal and approved the plan during a Senate appropriations committee hearing on Wednesday of last week.

The plan restored 95 percent of funding to 32 school districts whose state funds were cut in a March budget deal.

The bipartisan agreement to plug a $1.6 billion budget hole came with more than $1.3 billion in fund transfers and a 2.25 percent across-the-board cut to state funding. It also gave Rauner authority over $97 million to redistribute to needy schools.

Rauner has pledged to increase funding for schools, but signed the deal that included cuts in state aid for education.

But even with millions coming back to schools across the state, it will not make up for a 2.25 percent across-the-board budget cut that included education.

Area school officials still worry about more funding problems as the state continues to grapple with an ongoing budget crisis that may prompt more budget cuts in the next fiscal year.

The latest funds being returned range from a few thousand to tens of millions of dollars. Chicago Public Schools will receive the largest chunk of the money, about $33 million. Chicago is among 32 districts that are getting 95 percent of their cut funding restored.

The Associated Press and News-Democrat reporter Mary Cooley contributed to this story.