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Woodford Times - Peoria, IL
  • Deadbeat Illinois: Schoolchildren lose out with lack of state aid

  • GALESBURG — It's hard to visualize what a $768 million school funding shortfall looks like. It's even harder to imagine tacking an additional $400 million onto that figure, but that's exactly what Gov. Pat Quinn told school districts in January to expect come fiscal 2014, which begins July 1.
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  • Editor's Note: This is the latest installment in the Deadbeat Illinois series, where reporters from GateHouse Illinois newsrooms examine the real-world effects of the state's failure to pay its bills. Each Monday, we'll share the stories of those affected. See more on the Deadbeat Illinois Facebook page.
    GALESBURG — It's hard to visualize what a $768 million school funding shortfall looks like.
    In general terms, it means every student attending a public school in Illinois has been cheated of an average $1,100 since 2010.
    It's even harder to imagine tacking an additional $400 million onto that figure, but that's exactly what Gov. Pat Quinn told school districts in January to expect come fiscal 2014, which begins July 1.
    Since 2010, the state has come up lacking in general state aid for Illinois public school districts every year, shorting them $518 million for the 2012-13 school year alone, according to Illinois State Board of Education data. As districts large and small struggle to get by, the cuts are being felt in the classroom and, on a larger scale, threaten the future of a state that now ranks dead last in state education funding.
    Currently, two-thirds of Illinois school districts are operating in the red, said Matt Vanover, a State Board of Education spokesman.
    In addition, the state provides less than 30 percent of funding for public schools, with the rest being met by local and federal resources, Vanover said.
    "There's any number of ways reduction in state funding for education has affected schools," Vanover said. "It has meant schools have had to find different ways to sustain cuts. We've seen districts throughout Illinois eliminating athletics and extra-curricular activities, shortening school days."
    Asking for more
    One high school in the Chicago suburbs was forced to shorten its school day to such an extent that, upon graduation, students would not have enough credits to be accepted to the University of Illinois, Vanover said.
    "It's getting to the point where you're going to see significant cutbacks that are impacting the classrooms," he said.
    Which is why the State Board of Education is asking Quinn and the General Assembly for a 13.4 percent increase in spending for fiscal 2014, including a $741 million increase in general state aid.
    "After several reductions in this area in previous budgets, it is time to reaffirm our commitment to the state's youngest learners," ISBE officials wrote in their proposal. "The increase would reverse a trend of cuts that are impacting student learning and improve the financial health of districts across the state."
    Page 2 of 2 - Since 2010, the state has prorated the amount of funding it gives the ISBE to distribute to school districts, which meant this year, schools received 89 percent of what they were promised by the state.
    "Current state law sets the foundation level at $6,119 per student, and that's been the case since 2010," Vanover said. "But last year and the year before, the General Assembly didn't provide enough funding to meet that level. That's just the bottom line."
    For the current fiscal year, the ISBE received $5,734 per pupil — the lowest amount since 2008.
    Tearing down programs
    The Springfield public schools have a plan to reduce spending by $5 million by the end of the 2013-14 school year, which includes the elimination of 22 teaching positions, 25 special education attendants and almost a dozen other positions.
    "We're going to have larger class sizes across all levels," said Joe Bascio, the district's interim director of business services. "We knew state funding was continuing to decrease, and we needed to make cuts to get our budget balanced again."
    Earlier this month, the school board approved a further $6 million in cuts in anticipation of the potential loss of another $4 million in state funding.
    The additional reductions include losing another 24 teachers and closing the Capital College Preparatory Academy, a middle school geared toward low-income students.
    "It gets to the point where you just run out of cuts, and it may be we get to the point where you can't cut your way out of the situation," Bascio said.
    Smaller school districts are also feeling the impact of the declining state aid.
    The Galesburg school District 205 expects to receive $2.6 million less from the state in 2014 than it did in 2009, said Jim Rich, interim assistant superintendent for finance and operations.
    "I would say it (affects the quality of education) a great deal," Rich said. "Administrators and teachers are trained to build programs, and it's so much harder to tear down programs. Any time we're trying to hold the line or reduce something, we're taking something away."
    By the numbers
    *Shortfall in FY 2013 general state aid: $518,176,370
    *Shortfall since 2010: $768,393,406
    *Amount per student schools are supposed to receive: $6,119
    *Amount per student received in 2013: $5,734
    *Schools operating in deficit this year: 67 percent
    *2013 proration rate, which created a $518 million shortfall: 89 percent
    *Speculated 2014 proration rate, creating $400 million shortfall: 80 percent
    Source: State Board of Education

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