The two school districts that serve Forest Park are among the few school districts in the state that would lose money under a proposal from Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to fully fund General State Aid to education for the first time in seven years. However, they would lose more money if the state fails to fully fund state aid as it has in the past seven years.
According to a press release put out by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) last month, under the Rauner proposal Forest Park Elementary School District 91 is projected to receive $56,899 less in General State Aid next year than it is getting this year while Proviso Township High School District 209 is projected to receive $6,271 less.
An increase in Forest Park property values, as measured by Cook County’s triennial reassessment, seems to be the main culprit, along with a decrease in the number of low-income students attending Forest Park schools.
The amount of General State Aid a school district receives is determined by three factors: enrollment, the number of low-income students, and the property tax base of a school district.
“Comparing the current forecast of FY ’17 fully funded GSA to FY ’16 actual payments, 568 districts are forecast to gain funding while 284 are forecast to lose funding,” said Laine Evans, a spokeswoman for ISBE in an email. “However, every district receives more in FY ’17 if the claim is fully funded than they would if claims were prorated at something less than 100%. Each of the districts losing GSA funds has either gained wealth, seen a decline in student attendance, a decline in the number of low-income students, or a decline in the proportion of low-income students. Many of these districts are experiencing a combination of these factors.”
The state of Illinois divides school districts into three categories for General State Aid: “foundation level” districts, which are the poorest and receive the most state aid, “alternate method” districts which are in the middle and generally receive approximately $306 to $428 per pupil in general state aid, and “flat grant” formula districts, the richest districts, that receive $218 per pupil.
Both District 91 and District 209 are “alternate method” districts.
“We have a larger tax base than many others,” said Todd Drafall, chief financial officer of D209.
D91 gets about 8 percent of its revenues from the state and part of that is from categorical grants rather than General State Aid. Eighty-seven percent of D91’s revenue comes from local property taxes, according to Ed Brophy, assistant superintendent of operations.
In D209, about 13 percent of revenues come from General State Aid and about 17.5 percent of revenues come from all forms of state aid, Drafall said.
For the past seven years, the Illinois General Assembly has not fully funded General State Aid due to budget constraints. This year, school districts only received 92.1 percent of the money the state aid formula says they are supposed to receive under a process called “proration.”
Rauner is proposing to fully fund General State Aid next year to the tune of an additional $120 million so that local school districts receive all the state money they are supposed to get.
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) applauded that part of Rauner’s proposal.
“That is a good step,” Lightford said. “That’s a good first step.”
But Lightford said the basic foundation level used to determine General State Aid has not been increased for six years and it should be increased to keep up with inflation.
Rauner’s proposal is not expected to pass the General Assembly because it would reduce state aid to the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools by about $74 million. With both houses of the General Assembly led by Chicago Democrats, the state legislature is not likely to approve that kind of cut to Chicago schools.
Another bill under consideration in the state senate, backed by many Democrats, would change the way the state calculates General State Aid to direct more state money to poorer districts.
“We have, by far, the least equitable system in the country,” state Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), the chief sponsor of a bill to change the state funding formula, said at a state senate committee hearing last month. Manar’s bill was approved by the Senate Executive Committee last month and next will be considered by the full state senate.
Lightford, a member of the Senate Executive Committee that reviewed Manar’s bill and vice-chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, supports the concept behind Manar’s bill but said the bill needs more work before she can fully support it.
“We voted to move the measure forward so that we can continue to debate the issue and try to negotiate the terms,” Lightford said. “We were clear in that committee that there was still work that needed to be done before we call that bill.”
Last week, ISBE released figures showing the impact on individual school districts if Manar’s bill becomes law. Under ISBE’s analysis, state aid to D91 would be reduced by $820,630, phased in over a four-year period while D209 would see an increase of $2,116,257 from the state.
That projected increase came as a surprise to Drafall because under previous versions of Manar’s bill, D209 would have lost money.
“This is a good thing,” Drafall said. “Any more is positive; any less is negative.”
Losing more than $800,000 in state aid would be difficult for D91. Brophy, called the possible reduction in state aid “devastating.”
“The revenue loss will occur at a much faster pace than the district can even attempt to make up,” Brophy said in an email.
However, prospects for Manar’s bill in the legislature are uncertain as many suburban legislators are reluctant to support a change in the school aid funding formula that results in a reduction of state aid for school districts in their legislative districts.
On Monday, Rauner, holding a brief press conference at Lyons Township High School, said he is open to changing the state aid funding formula, but he would prefer to concentrate on increasing state money in schools right now.
“The single most important thing we can do is make sure that overall state aid goes up,” Rauner said. “We’ve got to put more money into schools while we continue to work on a bipartisan basis to come up with a school funding formula change.”