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updated: 4/6/2018 10:05 AM

Why suburban school districts will get piece of $395M more in funding

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  • Elgin Area School District U-46, of which Lowrie Elementary School here is a part, will be getting more than $24 million in state funding, according to data released by state officials Thursday.

      Elgin Area School District U-46, of which Lowrie Elementary School here is a part, will be getting more than $24 million in state funding, according to data released by state officials Thursday.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer, November 2017

  • Gov. Bruce Rauner signed education funding reform legislation last August that led to Thursday's announcement of roughly $395 million in additional funding for highest-need school districts statewide.

    Gov. Bruce Rauner signed education funding reform legislation last August that led to Thursday's announcement of roughly $395 million in additional funding for highest-need school districts statewide.
    Associated Press file photo

  • "This is absolutely a step in the direction of equity and I'm thrilled about it," Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said of the extra $22.5 million in funding the district will receive this year.

    "This is absolutely a step in the direction of equity and I'm thrilled about it," Elgin Area School District U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said of the extra $22.5 million in funding the district will receive this year.

 
 

School districts statewide will receive roughly $395 million in additional funding, including $29 million allocated for English learners in highest-need districts.

State education officials Thursday released final calculations for how much school districts will receive this fiscal year. Appropriations stem from the state's new evidence-based funding formula lawmakers approved last August, which aims for a more equitable funding structure.

For some suburban districts, it will mean unexpected millions of dollars to be distributed starting next week.

Elgin Area School District U-46 -- the state's second-largest school district educating roughly 39,300 students -- will get an extra $22.5 million on top of $134 million in base funding, and a $1.8 million supplemental grant for English learners.

The $22.5 million is not included in U-46's $518 million spending plan for this fiscal year. Officials will discuss where to spend that money in coming months, CEO Tony Sanders said.

"It's a good problem to have," Sanders said. "We have not budgeted for our infrastructure. We need to set aside funds for capital improvements."

However, lingering concerns over school districts potentially being saddled with more pension costs down the road could somewhat dampen the elation educators are feeling now.

"Any gains made through the evidence-based funding model could be easily wiped out by a pension shift," Sanders said, referring to proposals to move some of the state's teacher pension costs onto individual school districts.

U-46 was expecting anywhere from $12 million to $25 million in additional funding with various iterations of the funding bill widely supported by suburban superintendents.

"This is absolutely a step in the direction of equity, and I'm thrilled about it," Sanders said. "I don't care about the dollars. I care about equity. We are at 54 percent adequacy ... a little over half of what we should be spending per pupil."

The evidence-based formula defines an adequate funding target for each district based on enrollment and 34 factors, including teacher-to-student ratios and low-income populations.

"The numbers show staggering inequity," state Superintendent Tony Smith said.

Five previous state grant programs -- General State Aid, and funding for special education personnel, services, summer school and English learners -- now are merged. No school districts will lose money, at least initially.

The new formula requires an additional $7.2 billion to provide adequate funding for every school district in the state. Chicago Public Schools will get an extra $60 million.

"School districts that fall below the adequacy target will receive extra funding to be able to catch up and be in a more equitable position," said Scott Thompson, superintendent of Palatine Township Elementary District 15, which will receive an additional $324,000. "We think that is good for everyone in the state."

District 15 is the state's third-largest elementary system serving 12,800 students in seven communities.

Round Lake Area Unit District 116 will receive roughly $5.8 million. Officials hope to use the money for improvement projects this summer that they wouldn't be able to afford otherwise.

"I'll believe it even more when it hits our account," school board President Kevin Daniels said. "It's a really good day for the district."

Queen Bee Elementary District 16 in Glendale Heights expects to receive about $452,000, which Superintendent Victoria Talbert said will help fill a roughly $500,000 hole in the district's $30 million operating budget. That's a positive for a district serving roughly 1,890 students, "but in no way is this newfound money that we can just spend," she said.

In Villa Park Elementary District 45, the additional $85,000 in state funding is a drop in the bucket considering the district's roughly $60 million budget. Yet, "it's helpful to ensure we're meeting the needs of our students and providing best practices," Superintendent Anthony Palmisano said.

• Daily Herald staff writers Doug Graham, Bob Smith and Bob Susnjara contributed to this report.

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