$50,000 or $35 million: Which schools got the most in new state funding

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct information attributed to an Elgin Area School District U-46 spokeswoman.

New students won't be the only fresh faces showing up at Round Lake Unit District 116's Pleviak Kindergarten Center next week.

The school in Lake Villa is getting several new kindergarten teachers thanks to the state's new education funding formula that has added millions of dollars to District 116's coffers since it was put in place a year ago.

"When the money started coming in, we had a plan," said Donn Mendoza, superintendent of the school district with nearly 7,000 students and 10 schools. "We are adding about 40 additional positions this year in areas where we found the most benefit, and hiring more kindergarten teachers allows us to lower the size of our classes."

District 116 got an additional $5.3 million from the state in the first year of the new funding system, which will also allow it to add guidance counselors, special education instructors, bilingual educators and instructional coaches.

Others that saw substantial funding increases are Elgin Area School District U-46, the state's second largest school district, $35.8 million; West Aurora Unit District 129, $10.3 million; West Chicago Elementary District 33, $9.0 million; and East Aurora Unit District 131, $6.6 million.

All schools across the state received more state aid last year, but the size of the increase varied a lot. Libertyville High School District 128 and Rosemont Elementary District 78 each received less than $50,000 in additional education fund state aid last year.

The new state formula was intended to increase funding for school districts with low property tax collections, which is where most schools receive the majority of their revenue.

"The healthier the finances of the district, the less likely they are to see any significant increase to their state funding," said Michael Jacoby, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials.

School districts that already relied heavily on state aid were going to see even more money through the new formula.

More than 65% of District 116's $51.4 million education fund came from state aid in 2018, according to Illinois State Board of Education financial records.

A Daily Herald analysis of 96 suburban school districts' financial reports showed less than 18% of the average school district's education fund came from state aid in 2018. The analysis also showed the 96 suburban districts combined received more than $1 billion in education fund state aid last year, $155 million more than the previous year.

Queen Bee Elementary District 16 in Glendale Heights received 34.2% of its education fund revenue from the state in 2018, up from 31.9% the year before. The four-school district receive $1.1 million more in 2018 from the state through the new funding formula, and officials there said it was used to enhance existing programs and improve the district's commitment to its special needs community.

"We invested this money in established and proven instructional practices," said Superintendent Joe Williams. "We count on it as we've always counted on state aid - we budgeted conservatively. This is not found money."

Because of the state's history of late payments or broken promises on funding, some district administrators may be gun-shy about planning for any anticipated windfall.

School districts are divided into four different funding tiers based on their "financial adequacy." Most suburban schools are not on the lowest tier that sees the greatest benefit from the new state funding method. The median increase to the suburban districts' education fund state aid was a little more than $800,000, according to the analysis.

District U-46 is on the lowest tier and received a total of $177.3 million for its education fund in state aid last year.

Spokeswoman Mary Fergus said U-46 used some of the new state revenue to hire guidance counselors in its middle schools, positions that had been vacant for more than a decade. Additionally, high school students and some middle-schoolers in advanced math classes received Chromebooks from the district last year. The goal this year is to outfit all students beginning in fifth grade with the devices, she said.

Northwest Suburban High School District 214 received $3.1 million more in education fund revenue, and Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 received nearly $1.9 million more.

In all, the districts in the analysis reported more than $286.7 million in new education fund revenue in 2018 combined from all sources. The additional state aid from the new funding formula accounted for 54.3% of that new revenue, according to the analysis.

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The 10 suburban school districts that benefitted the most last year from the state's new funding formula:

District Fund increase

Elgin Area District U-46 $35,772,186

West Aurora Unit District 129 $10,256,318

West Chicago Elementary Dist. 33 $9,012,253

East Aurora Unit District 131 $6,573,119

Round Lake Unit District 116 $5,360,273

Schaumburg Elementary District 54 $4,672,333

Indian Prairie Unit District 204 $4,654,423

McHenry Elementary Dist. 15 $4,469,065

Huntley Unit District 158 $4,346,709

Fox Lake Elementary District 114 $3,978,951

Source: Daily Herald analysis of Illinois State Board of Education records

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