State warning of more school funding cuts

2013-10-18T00:00:00Z State warning of more school funding cutsKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
October 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

SPRINGFIELD | Illinois school administrators received another jolt of negative news last week: The already reduced level of funding they receive from the state could be slashed even more beginning next year.

Although it is early in the budget-making process, the Illinois State Board of Education told local school districts they should be planning to receive about 85 percent of what they should normally be receiving in general state aid payments in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014.

Currently, school districts that qualify for general state aid are receiving about 89 percent of what they should be getting because of a pinch in state dollars.

The basis of the warning comes from projections showing that school districts could qualify for as much as $200 million in additional aid at a time when the state budget remains tight.

State Board of Education spokesman Matt Vanover said the agency wanted to send a message to school boards who are making plans for next year’s budget:

“As you put together your projections, please be very conservative,” Vanover said.

The call for caution comes months before lawmakers begin serious debate on next year’s budget plan, meaning lots could change between now and next spring.

But, the warning bells come at a time when cuts to education have become commonplace.

A special committee formed in 2002 set $6,119 as the base amount of how much should be spent on each student. Local school districts pay what they can toward that amount, with the state kicking in the rest.

That means districts in areas with high property values may not need any state aid to reach the base level of funding, while poorer school districts might need a larger chunk of state money.

Two years ago, however, lawmakers decided to only pay 95 percent of the funding level. In the current fiscal year, the amount was cut to 89 percent.

That means about three-quarters of the state’s school districts are receiving less money from the state than was the foundation level in the 2008 fiscal year.

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, has been holding hearings on the state’s school funding system in recent weeks and is poised to make recommendations for a “more fair and adequate” funding method by Feb. 1.

Manar said the panel could propose changes that would alter the school funding landscape in the coming fiscal year.

“We’re on a path to have a meaningful discussion about funding reform next session. And that is a discussion we haven’t had in almost 15 years,” Manar said. “I think it’s premature to begin to make assessments about next year’s budget.”

The Illinois Association of School Administrators is hopeful another reduction can be avoided.

“We believe that general state aid is fundamental to education of children and we believe it should be fully funded,” said IASA spokesman Mike Chamness.

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