If Trump withholds funds from schools that don't open, how bad will they be hit?

  • President Donald Trump listens during a "National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America's Schools," event in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, July 7, 2020, in Washington.

    President Donald Trump listens during a "National Dialogue on Safely Reopening America's Schools," event in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, July 7, 2020, in Washington. Associated Press

 
 
Posted7/10/2020 5:30 AM

Federal funding, which President Donald Trump threatened to take away from schools that don't reopen in the fall, represents an average 7% of revenue for the 852 public school districts in Illinois.

Nearly 27% came from state funding and nearly 66% from local funding in fiscal year 2018, the latest data available from the Illinois State Board of Education, said spokeswoman Jackie Matthews.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The federal funding comes in the form of different grant programs, such as for low-income students, special education, nutrition, after-school programs and parent activities tied to children's education. There is also funding specifically for rural school districts and for districts with students or parents who are migrant workers.

As for Trump's comments Wednesday to pull funding if schools don't bring students back, "I think schools are primarily focused on developing their reopening plans and coming up with plans that keep students, teachers and families safe, and maximize their instruction," Matthews said.

Chicago Public Schools, the largest school district in the state, got the most federal grant money at $448.1 million in fiscal year 2019-20, and Elgin Area School District U-46, the state's second-largest, received $31.6 million, according to ISBE's information.

U-46 Superintendent Tony Sanders said federal funding accounted for about 6% of the district's $594 million budget for the 2019-20 school year. He said the total figure was more than $34 million through May 31, of which $8 million funded Title 1 programs for low-income students, $7.9 million went to the National School Lunch Program, and $6.2 million was allocated for special education.

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Trump's comments will not affect plans in U-46 because "the president does not have the authority to withhold those funds," Sanders said.

"We are opening either way," he said. "It can't stop ... what we are planning for next school year."

Sanders said the district still must abide by guidance provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as state and local health departments.

"If (Trump's) requirement is to have every kid, every day in person, then that would be advice I would have to go against based on the CDC regulations, state health department, local health department, all of whom say that we must really work to provide that 6 feet of space, and also wearing of face masks and all the protections," Sanders said.

In the suburbs, others that got large sums include East Aurora School District 131, which got $13 million, Palatine School District 15, which got $5.9 million, and Round Lake School District 116, which got $4.5 million, according to the ISBE.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Rondout School District 72, a K-8 school district in Lake County, got the least in the state -- $1,187.

Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 received nearly $221,000 in federal funds last year, according to ISBE. The full figure is about $600,000 including Medicaid reimbursement, mostly for special education, said Dan Stanley, the district's assistant superintendent of business.

"With federal funding representing less than 1% of District 128, I do not foresee the loss of funding affecting our reopening plans. Even if special education funding is cut, it does not remove the requirement for the district to provide those services," Stanley said.

Township High School District 214, headquartered in Arlington Heights, will follow the guidance of state and local authorities and will be releasing its reopening plans later this month, district spokesman Dave Beery said. The district got nearly $1.7 million in federal grant funding last year, according to ISBE's data.

"While the White House comments add one new dimension, school districts already have been working with a landscape that shifts in one way or another almost daily. This is one more element that we will work with in crafting our reopening guidelines," Beery said.

ISBE encourages in-person instruction, because that's the best way that students can learn, but the guidance of science and data regarding the COVID-19 spread is crucial, Matthews said.

"We are working very closely with the Illinois Department of Public Health, which has a team of epidemiologists, infection preventionists and medical experts who are providing information on the guidance."

• Daily Herald staff writer Madhu Krishnamurthy contributed to this report.

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