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updated: 5/2/2013 5:13 AM

Woodland still pressing change in funding for state-approved charter schools

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  • State funding for Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake continues to be a source of contention for leaders in surrounding Woodland Elementary School District 50.

      State funding for Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake continues to be a source of contention for leaders in surrounding Woodland Elementary School District 50.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer


Gurnee-based Woodland Elementary District 50 officials plan to continue calling attention to what they say is an unfair method of how state-approved charter schools are formed.

District 50 officials have voiced concern about having to send state general aid to help pay for children attending Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake, which amounts to about $3 million for the current academic year.

That concern led District 50 to back a now-stalled legislative effort to amend the state's Illinois Charter Schools Law.

Under the House measure that got hung up in a committee last month, most of Prairie Crossing's funding would come directly from the state instead of through the nearby District 50 and Mundelein-area Fremont Elementary District 79, as it has since 1999. Prairie Crossing officials disputed the proposal, contending the funding change could threaten its future by making it vulnerable to the state's budgeting process. Prairie Crossing, a small choice school within the boundaries of districts 50 and 79, was approved by the state over the objections of the two school systems. The charter school projects that $3.7 million of its $4.4 million in revenue this year comes via Woodland and Fremont.

Although the bill appears dead for the current General Assembly session, District 50 officials say they are committed to seeking a change. As part of the effort, Woodland hopes to participate in a statewide task force to examine the issue.

District 50 Associate Superintendent Robert Leonard said fairness is the issue for his school system.

"We want the same access to the same state aid the other 862 districts have," Leonard said Wednesday.

Of the roughly $3.5 million in general state aid allotted to District 50, said Leonard, Woodland had to divert roughly $3 million to Prairie Crossing.

District 50 Superintendent Joy Swoboda said about 274,164 emails were sent to legislators over two weeks in April in support of the bill. Prairie Crossing said its supporters wrote or contacted legislators opposing the proposal. It is one of two charter schools approved by the state within the boundaries of large districts that objected.

Leonard said recent proposals to launch online, virtual charter schools have elevated interest in the funding issue across the state. Similar to Woodland, he said, districts would have to forward annual state aid money to operators of the online schools if they are approved by the relatively new Illinois Charter School Commission.

Prairie Crossing is a 392-student school with an environmentally focused curriculum that received its charter from the Illinois State Board of Education in 1999. Because it is within the boundaries of districts 50 and 79, students from those areas may be sent at no extra charge to Prairie Crossing, which determines enrollment by lottery.

Prairie Crossing Executive Director Nigel Whitington encouraged its backers in a newsletter to attend Thursday's Charter School Lobby Day in Springfield to press their case.

"Looking to the future, I do not believe the issue of state charter school funding is a dead issue and funding for this school (Prairie Crossing), and other state charter schools, needs to be addressed at the state level of government," Whittington said.

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