U-46 board questions why state tax relief grants didn't come
Elgin schools officials say they are disappointed unit districts that applied for a portion of $50 million in property tax relief grants from the state this year were sidelined due to the criteria used for calculating eligibility.
Elgin Area School District U-46 sought roughly $43 million -- the maximum for which it was eligible -- for fiscal year 2019.
Tax relief grants are a provision of the state's new evidence-based school funding law. A school district's eligibility is based on whether it has the highest unit equivalent tax rate compared to all the districts that applied. Approved districts must agree to abate a portion of taxes in the coming tax year.
"The way the state evaluated which districts were eligible really favored high school districts," school board member Sue Kerr said during Monday night's school board meeting. "Not a single unit district in the state received any property tax relief, and I believe 75 percent of the schools that got it were high school districts. It's a problem."
The Illinois State Board of Education last month approved grants for 28 eligible school districts out of 373 districts that applied for tax relief. Those districts collectively may provide roughly $56.9 million in total property tax relief in exchange for the $50 million in state funding.
Of the 28 recipients, 20 were high school districts. Among them are Antioch Community High School District 117, Grayslake Community High School District 127, Leyden Community High School District 212 and Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211.
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said the problem lies with the way the law was written.
"It really eliminates the ability for unit districts to ever have access to those dollars," said Sanders adding these tax relief grants become part of the recipient districts' base funding going forward. "It flies in the face of the conversations around wealth versus poverty. A significant number of the districts that got it are already being funded over 100 percent of their adequacy target. It is problematic the way the law was written and I think we need to collectively encourage a change in the General Assembly."
Sanders said it forces "more poverty-stricken districts" to rely on raising funds locally to meet students' educational needs.
Board member Melissa Owens said unit districts didn't stand a chance under the criteria used to determine which districts would receive grants.
"The intent of evidence-based funding is to address the vast inequity that is occurring in the state over school funding," Owens said. "The grants or the rebates that the districts will get ... is going to now be put into their base funding from here on out. So not only did this not address inequity, it is exacerbating inequity. It is building inequity into perpetuity."
Board member Jeanette Ward said U-46 could have granted tax relief to district residents by reducing property taxes without relying on state funding.