Court Orders Payments to Correct State Errors But Woodland's Long-Term Financial Loss Still in Place Due to Charter School Operations
Woodland District 50 received good news recently with a court-ordered correction related to state payments in connection with Prairie Crossing Charter School. However, the long-term loss of state dollars remains unchanged with the state renewal of a five-year charter.
In Illinois, state-authorized charter schools like Prairie Crossing Charter School are funded by the Illinois State Board of Education redirecting state funds that are otherwise due the local school district and delivering that money to the charter school. The amount of funds to be redirected is equal to the school district's per capita tuition multiplied by the number of local students attending the charter school. Since Prairie Crossing Charter School opened in 1999, $44 million has been redirected from Woodland to support the charter school. Today, 385 Woodland students attend the charter school.
After nearly four years of challenging the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in court, Woodland recently received $377,000 in additional payments from the state agency. The payment is to make Woodland 100% whole for underpayments from ISBE between 2015 and 2018 related to tuition payments to support Prairie Crossing Charter School. Between 1999 and 2015, the state counted Prairie Crossing Charter School students as part of the calculation used to determine Woodland's tuition rate because the Illinois School Code requires that charter school students be counted as though enrolled at the local school district. In 2015, the state abruptly changed its calculation and stopped adding Prairie Crossing Charter School students to Woodland's tuition calculation, thus causing the tuition rate to increase. That meant more of the state funds usually reserved for Woodland were diverted to Prairie Crossing.
Woodland challenged the state's calculation change in court and in October 2016, the Circuit Court ruled in favor of Woodland. The Illinois State Board of Education appealed the decision and in March 2018, the Appellate Court unanimously upheld the Circuit Court's decision. After the Illinois State Board of Education refused to make Woodland whole for the tuition amounts lost while the case was litigated, Woodland again sought court intervention, resulting in the Circuit Court ordering in January 2019 that ISBE pay Woodland $377,347.00 by May 2019.
Even though it took four years, Woodland District 50 is pleased about the Circuit Court's decision. Unfortunately, the court decision does not change Woodland's objection that the state supports a charter school which does not appropriately serve at-risk students living in the Woodland community.
The $377,347.000 is just a fraction of the $44 million in state money redirected from Woodland to Prairie Crossing Charter School since the school opened. With the January 24, 2019 renewal of the charter by the Illinois State Charter Commission, even more significant amounts will be redirected from Woodland to support the charter school.
The five-year renewal allows the charter school to increase the enrollment limit from 432 to 444 students. Currently, 88 percent of the students attending Prairie Crossing Charter School live in Woodland District 50 boundaries. Projecting that same percentage into the future with the approved enrollment increase means the District can anticipate an additional $150,000 of state dollars being redirected annually from Woodland to support the charter school. This figure is in addition to an already anticipated increase of $595,000 stemming from the per capita tuition formula. Total state dollars diverted away from Woodland School District 50 is estimated to increase from $4.47 million in the 2018-2019 school year to $5.22 million in the 2019-2020 school year.