In the metro-east, some public school districts have about half the funding Illinois says they need to educate their students.
But Illinois is changing the way it funds public education. The goal is that, by gradually sending more money to schools, they will eventually have all they need.
On Thursday, the Illinois State Board of Education announced how much the districts will get this school year.
The new funding was calculated based on the total cost of education in that district compared with the resources it has.
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All 61 districts in the five-county area are getting more money than they did last year. The need-based increases range from $200 to $2.9 million.
Here are the districts with the largest increases from the previous year:
▪ Granite City District 9, with $2.9 million
▪ Belleville District 201, with $2.4 million
▪ Belleville District 118, with $1.6 million
Superintendent Jim Greenwald said Granite City District 9 doesn’t have specific plans for how the money will be spent yet.
“We’re in a listening and a brainstorming phase,” he said.
The district needs roof repairs and other renovations, textbooks and technology as it expands programs to teach skills such as keyboarding in its elementary schools, according to Greenwald. He said meetings are scheduled this week and next to hear suggestions from people in the school community.
For Belleville District 118, the increase means the district doesn’t have to dip into its reserves to deal with an estimated $1 million deficit for the year, Assistant Superintendent Ryan Boike said. In the future, he said, more state money could help the district update its curriculum on a more regular basis.
School leaders have previously dealt with late payments from the state, or they received less money than expected because the state didn’t have enough revenue to pay the districts.
In Fairview Heights, Grant District 110 Superintendent Matt Stines said he and some of his colleagues are wondering whether the state will make all of the payments this year.
“I think that’s always going to be a question for us,” because of the state’s history, Stines said.
The funding increase comes after Granite City District 9 cut millions of dollars from its budget over the last several years to operate during challenging times, according to Greenwald.
In Belleville District 201, Assistant Superintendent Brian Mentzer said officials made major changes to the transportation and food services to save close to $1 million each year, according to estimates.
An increase in state funding gets the Belleville high school district “to a position where we no longer have to look at ways to save millions of dollars per year to keep operating efficiently,” Mentzer said.
As schools made cuts, some teachers went online to raise money for the resources they wanted for their classes through websites like DonorsChoose.org. It’s where an O’Fallon teacher got the money for an iPad to complete her classroom set, plus keyboards for her students to use during writing projects.
Another teacher in Collinsville bought musical instruments for her students through DonorsChoose.org.
The increase in state revenue means East St. Louis District 189 can continue to have “critical staff positions,” such as nurses, counselors, social workers and librarians, according to district spokesperson Sydney Stigge-Kaufman. District 189 is getting $1 million more from Illinois this year.
Grant District 110 will see a smaller increase: $24,282.
Superintendent Stines said District 110 has more revenue coming in from a property tax increase that voters approved in 2014. It’s also saving money from retirements by replacing veteran teachers with new teachers, who have lower salaries.
The Fairview Heights school district has goals to add more help for students through staff or curriculum, for example, more mentoring for new teachers and updated textbooks, according to Stines.