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Article posted: 3/27/2013 4:48 PM

Proposed legislation targets Prairie Crossing funding

By Bob Susnjara

A board member at Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake is expressing concern about proposed legislation he says would threaten its major funding source.

Prairie Crossing board Vice President Dean Thorson has sent an email to parents asking them to contact their state representatives and senators, urging them to fight the proposed amendment to the Illinois Charter Schools Law.

Under the proposed House legislation, most of Prairie Crossing's funding would come directly from the state instead of through the nearby Woodland Elementary District 50 and Fremont Elementary District 79.

Prairie Crossing is a 392-student-capacity choice school with an environmentally focused curriculum that received its charter from the Illinois State Board of Education about 14 years ago.

It is within the boundaries of districts 50 and 79, and students from those districts may be sent at no extra charge to Prairie Crossing, which determines enrollment by lottery.

Of roughly $3.5 million in general state aid allotted to District 50 for the 2011-12 academic year, about $3 million was diverted to Prairie Crossing to pay for 324 children who attended the charter school. A report complied by District 50 shows $720,249 of $853,456 in state cash originally meant for District 79 went to cover its 78 students who went to the charter school in 2011-12.

Those districts must pay 100 percent of tuition costs for pupils who are sent to Prairie Crossing because it is a charter school the state created.

Prairie Crossing's current budget projects $3.7 million out of $4.4 millon in revenue to come from the state. Thorson said the House proposal would endanger Prairie Crossing's future because the annual guarantee of state money no longer would exist.

"I am appalled that our state legislators would stoop to this level, introducing changes to the charter school law to specifically target the school my children attend," he said.

Republican state Rep. JoAnn Osmond of Antioch is chief co-sponsor of the measure. She said even if the proposal goes nowhere, attention is focused on the inequity of the large Woodland and Fremont districts sending millions to educate children at the small charter school.

Osmond said she understands if there is concern at Prairie Crossing.

"This is always going to be a fight, especially in these economic times when we're fighting for every dollar," she said.

Prairie Crossing, created over the objections of officials at districts 50 and 79 in 1999, is one of two state-sanctioned charter schools in Illinois. Others operate as part of large school districts and would not be affected by the proposed legislation.

Children in kindergarten through eighth grade attend Priaire Crossing.

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