Education

Local educators cautiously optimistic about Illinois school funding reform

In this 2016 file photo, Brittany Becker teaches a sixth-grade class at Union Elementary School in Belleville.
In this 2016 file photo, Brittany Becker teaches a sixth-grade class at Union Elementary School in Belleville. News-Democrat file photo

Some school leaders in the metro-east say they support the new school funding formula that has been approved by the General Assembly. But they worry about receiving the money that would be promised to them.

The Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act 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. Illinois schools rely on local property taxes to cover more than 60 percent of their costs today.

No district would receive less money from the state than it did in the 2016-17 school year under the plan. But educators are skeptical that Illinois will follow through in sending the money based on the delays in mandated payments from the state over the past few years.

Opponents also argue that the proposal unfairly benefits Chicago Public Schools by allowing the district to keep hundreds of millions of dollars from lump-sum payments lawmakers negotiated with Chicago decades ago.

Another provision of the plan would have taxpayers begin picking up portions of the Chicago district’s obligatory contributions to teachers’ retirement plans, something they do for every other district.

The Illinois House and Senate approved the plan in May, but Gov. Bruce Rauner has promised to veto the measure in its current form, according to a statement issued from Secretary of Education Beth Purvis and the governor’s press office.

Read the full text of Senate Bill 1 at ilga.gov/legislation.

The statement acknowledged that Senate Bill 1 reflects many elements of the framework created by a “bipartisan, bicameral commission” that Rauner requested to reform school funding. But he objects to the pension resolution for Chicago Public Schools, saying that without including Chicago, downstate schools would receive more.

The governor respects legislators’ work to advance the proposal, according to the statement. “His hope is that they will use the opportunity afforded by Sen. Donne Trotter, who has held the bill for consideration, to continue to compromise and find a solution that ensures that all 852 districts in Illinois are treated equitably,” it said.

In the metro-east, Granite City District 9 Superintendent Jim Greenwald says the legislation would help schools with high poverty levels like Granite City.

“It would be $2.33 million more for us, which will be very beneficial, especially in this day and age with state funding being so uncertain,” Greenwald said.

Greenwald acknowledged that other districts won’t get as much as Granite City. District 9 would actually receive the largest increase from the state among metro-east school districts.

“But even those it’s not helping as much, it won’t hurt anyone,” he said. “I think a bill like this is needed.”

We’re still wondering how the state is going to fund that. ... The state’s lacking revenue.

Ryan Boike, Belleville District 118 assistant superintendent, on school funding reform

The important thing is to get better, reliable funding, Greenwald said.

“The magical question is, what will the honorable governor do? I certainly hope and pray that this passes,” he said. “These public schools, like mine and everyone else’s, cannot continue to squeeze and tighten the belt and make millions of cutbacks and still be able to maintain and sustain outstanding facilities and services.

“Something’s going to have to give, sooner rather than later.”

Assistant Superintendent Ryan Boike says Belleville District 118 leaders support Senate Bill 1 but are concerned about a funding source for the new money promised to schools under the plan.

“We’re still wondering how the state is going to fund that,” Boike said. “... The state’s lacking revenue.”

In a submitted statement, East St. Louis District 189 Superintendent Arthur Culver also cited the funding source as a concern and said he thought the financial projections for each school district should be reviewed prior to passage.

“There is no guarantee that the additional funding to implement SB1 will be available in the near future,” he stated.

But Culver said he is “elated” that legislators and the Illinois State Board of Education are working to change the current funding formula.

“Every child in Illinois should have access to a high quality education regardless of their zip code,” Culver stated. “This is more than an education funding problem; it is a civil rights issue.”

District 189’s 10 schools would receive almost $1.4 million, according to estimates.

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In this 2013 file photo, a student at Dunbar Elementary School in East St. Louis District 189 charts his progress on school work. Derik Holtmann News-Democrat file photo

The 11 schools in Belleville District 118 could also see an increase of $1.4 million in state funding if the bill becomes law, based on projections. Boike said that money could be used toward instruction or intervention for at-risk students in the district’s 11 schools.

“There are a lot of things we could do: adding additional staff members, smaller class sizes, implement new programs, enhancing technology,” Boike said.

Superintendent Lynda Andre called the new formula “a slight improvement” for Edwardsville District 7, Madison County’s largest school district. District 7 would receive an estimated $228,000 more from the state.

“While the latest version only provides minimal additional funding for the district, it does not have the negative impact that previous proposals would have potentially had on the district’s educational funding,” she said.

However, Andre said the bill doesn’t address the continued delays in mandated state payments for districts’ transportation and special education costs. Schools are required to provide busing and special education services, but they’ve been left waiting for the state’s funding for those programs.

“The district is being severely impacted from these delays and the continued proration of funding within the transportation fund,” Andre said. “To date, the district has had to borrow $2 million in tax anticipation warrants in the education and transportation fund due to the lack of special education and transportation categorical payments from the state.”

2005Nagy
In this 2005 file photo, a Laidlaw school bus departs Edwardsville High School. Steve Nagy News-Democrat file photo

Superintendent Jeff Dosier said the state owes Belleville District 201 more than $2 million in reimbursements for transportation and special education costs, so school leaders are waiting to “see how things play out” with any new money that might be promised to districts across Illinois.

“If we were going to get this money, we would hope that they would pay it in a timely manner so that we could use it to impact our classrooms,” Dosier said.

The high school district expects to receive an estimated $1.9 million more from the state if the funding reform takes effect. Like other school leaders, Dosier said he supports the bill.

“We do believe that this funding model ... is better for students in Illinois,” Dosier said.

Grant District 110 Superintendent Matt Stines agreed that the new model is “what we need for kids,” but he has the same concern about the state making payments to districts.

“It doesn’t matter what the funding model is ... it’s gotta be funded by the legislature,” Stines said. “... We gotta have the dollars behind it.”

District 110 would receive an additional $29,000 from the state under Senate Bill 1, according to projections. Stines said that won’t be enough to bring back programs like art and music, which were previously cut because of a lack of state funding.

These public schools ... cannot continue to squeeze and tighten the belt and make millions of cutbacks and still be able to maintain and sustain outstanding facilities and services.

Jim Greenwald, Granite City District 9 superintendent

The state also owes the Fairview Heights district about $420,000 for its transportation and special education costs, Stines said.

Dosier described Senate Bill 1 as “an attempt” to have equitable school funding and “somewhat of a compromise,” given the chunk of money going to Chicago.

“It seems to me there needs to be more compromise to get a budget,” Dosier said. Lawmakers failed for a third straight year to negotiate an annual budget plan with Gov. Rauner — the longest any state has gone without a budget since at least the Great Depression.

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, voted against the measure because, like the governor, he says downstate schools would receive more money if it weren’t for the provisions for Chicago.

Meier is one of four lawmakers from southern Illinois to vote against the bill. The others include Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon; Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo; and Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville.

Meier says Chicago would receive 70 percent of the new funding.

“I simply can’t support a bill that disproportionately benefits Chicago schools more than the schools I represent,” Meier said in a news release. “... I won’t give up fighting for the schools of the 108th District.”

Collinsville Unit 10, for example, would receive a nearly $1.5 million increase under Senate Bill 1, according to numbers provided by Meier. But he says without the “extra” money promised to Chicago, Collinsville would have received almost $2.9 million.

2016Vizer
In this 2016 file photo, Renfro Elementary School kindergarten teacher Kelly Stirnaman looks over the math paper of a student during a class session on numbers and counting at the Collinsville school. Tim Vizer tvizer@bnd.com

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, doesn’t see it that way. He sponsored Senate Bill 1, which he says only treats Chicago the same as the rest of the state.

In a column published in Crain’s Chicago Business, Manar said Republicans are “serving up excuses to mislead constituents” about the bill; he says it doesn’t cause any district to lose money.

The “extra” funding, he said, is actually just putting Chicago back in the pension fund with all the other districts.

“The state picks up teacher pension costs for every district except Chicago,” Manar wrote. “Senate Bill 1 adds Chicago into the equation for the first time ever, in the interest of fairness.”

Sen. James Clayborne, Jr., D-Belleville, voted in favor of the plan because he says it will provide additional funding for schools, as well as property tax relief for communities, according to a news release.

Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, also supports the bill. He says it would bring seven-figure increases to some struggling metro-east school districts, including Granite City District 9, Belleville districts 118 and 201, East St. Louis District 189 and Collinsville Unit 10.

The metro-east district that is expected to receive the smallest increase from the state is Venice District 3. Madison County’s smallest district can expect to receive an increase of just $188, projections show.

Sen. Schimpf, who voted against the bill, thinks it’s “nothing more than a thinly-veiled bailout for the mismanaged Chicago Public Schools,” according to his website. Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, on the other hand, called Senate Bill 1 “one of the most important pieces of legislation this session” on social media. She is a co-sponsor.

This is more than an education funding problem; it is a civil rights issue.

Arthur Culver, East St. Louis District 189 superintendent

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

Associated Press reporter Kiannah Sepeda-Miller contributed to this report.

By the numbers

District

Estimated funding increase

Rank

Alton 11

$953,238.39

7 of 40

Belle Valley 119

$437,237.75

10 of 40

Belleville 118

$1,401,596.54

4 of 40

Belleville 201

$1,941,563.22

2 of 40

Bethalto 8

$694,274.39

8 of 40

Brooklyn 188

$36,744.19

30 of 40

Cahokia 187

$551,826.02

9 of 40

Central 104

$17,833.15

36 of 40

Collinsville 10

$1,451,508.51

3 of 40

Dupo 196

$414,005.49

11 of 40

East Alton 13

$349,664.72

13 of 40

East Alton/Wood River 14

$269,159.62

15 of 40

East St. Louis 189

$1,357,557.75

5 of 40

Edwardsville 7

$228,464.99

16 of 40

Freeburg 70

$32,974.15

31 of 40

Freeburg 77

$47,617.84

26 of 40

Granite City 9

$2,333,657.15

1 of 40

Grant 110

$29,708.26

32 of 40

Harmony-Emge 175

$69,981.97

24 of 40

High Mount 116

$209,352.10

17 of 40

Highland 5

$143,287.93

20 of 40

Lebanon 9

$39,789.27

28 of 40

Madison 12

$107,925.57

21 of 40

Marissa 40

$275,267.30

14 of 40

Mascoutah 19

$1,073,591.31

6 of 40

Millstadt 160

$24,580.41

34 of 40

New Athens 60

$37,888.31

29 of 40

O'Fallon 203

$375,419.18

12 of 40

O'Fallon 90

$164,968.51

19 of 40

Pontiac 105

$816.61

39 of 40

Roxana 1

$2,290.76

38 of 40

Shiloh 85

$46,945.61

27 of 40

Signal Hill 181

$104,876.19

22 of 40

Smithton 130

$19,988.63

35 of 40

St. Libory 30

$5,999.19

37 of 40

Triad 2

$181,332.64

18 of 40

Venice 3

$188.59

40 of 40

Whiteside 115

$66,197.01

25 of 40

Wolf Branch 113

$25,444.12

33 of 40

Wood River 15

$90,211.35

23 of 40

Source: Illinois State Board of Education State Funding and Forecasting staff

How they voted

Here’s how Southern Illinois senators voted on Senate Bill 1, the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act:

  • Sen. James Clayborne, Jr. (D-Belleville) — Yes
  • Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) — No
  • Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) — No

And how Southern Illinois representatives voted:

  • Rep. Dan Beiser (D-Alton) — Yes
  • Rep. Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) — Yes
  • Rep. LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis) — Yes
  • Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) — Yes
  • Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) — No
  • Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) — No
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